Way back in 2002, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers came out and it blew not only me away but Hollywood as well. It was even better than The Fellowship of the Ring and one of the main reasons was because of Andy Serkis' performance as Gollum. The scene that everyone talked about in particular was where he has a conversation with himself about whether or not he should kill Frodo and Sam. What the movie did was cause a debate with the question, "should an actor who plays a motion-capture CGI character get nominated for an Oscar?" It's been 12 years since Serkis caused that debate and I think his time has finally come.
I understand that this seems like a heavy statement that is overly dramatic but I mean every word of it; Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a milestone in cinematic history that features achievements that mark a new beginning for the art. The movie is wonderful but the performance of Serkis and the technology that allows it to seem so unflinchingly real is a first. Never for a single second do you not accept every ape in the film as a real animal and a large part of that is because of the performances by the men and women who play them, mainly Serkis and Toby Kebbell (War Horse, Wrath of the Titans).
Director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) believed in this so much that he starts the film with 12 minutes that features only the apes and zero dialogue. I know that sounds arty but I assure you Dawn still has everything you expect to see in a big budget, summer blockbuster. It still features all the action, explosions, violence and excitement but still has something to say, complex characters in challenging relationships and presented in such an artistic fashion that the whole thing commands to be taken seriously as a true expression of cinema.
The story isn't original and is pretty predictable but that's the furthest thing from your mind as you watch a film that features a fully CGI character as its star for the first time ever. It could have shown cliche characters doing cliche things but instead makes even the villains have justifications that are understandable and sympathetic. Gary Oldman (the Dark Knight trilogy, the Harry Potter films) is his usual awesome self playing a baddie that still wrangles enough saddness and desperation that every action he has is something you can never hate.
The other human characters are played Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty, The Great Gatsby), Keri Russell (Felicity, Waitress) and the very grown-up Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road, Let Me In). They feel a little shoehorned into the plot for the sake of making the film relatable to a mainstream audience but not enough to ever once make you roll your eyes at their presence. But make no mistake that the stars of the film are the apes and the performances you see are the performers themselves. Sure the technology makes the physical manifestation possible but the heart and soul of the character is all the actors within.
The dinosaurs and a-holes that make up The Academy say that an actor who plays a CGI character shouldn't be considered for an Oscar because it takes a team of hundreds of artists to make the performance come to life. True, but what we see in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is no less an actor's performance as is any other actor who has won an Oscar for playing a character donned in hours of special FX makeup. This movie is one of the best films of the year and it's primarily because of the performance from Andy Serkis. If The Academy doesn't recognize that and give the man a well-deserved and overdue nomination I may have to start throwing my own poop.
Often I assume that nobody reads these reviews and I do this just as a form of self pleasure. I recently got contacted by a listener named Allison and she said, "Hey, if you don't write a review for Tammy, how am I suppose to know if it's worth my money?" It was nice to hear. Not only was it a reminder that at least some of you actually read these but also that these reviews act as a warning to anyone willing to listen for movies that are a complete waste of your money. 2014 has brought some pretty lousy movies but none of them have earned that money-wasting warning more this year than Tammy.
Melissa McCarthy is a comedic powerhouse, no doubt. When she stormed into theaters in Bridesmaids she was one of the only thing that people remembered and truly loved about that movie. There's a reason why she earned an Oscar nomination despite the fact that she played a character that got diarrhea into a sink. Not only was she a woman in comedy proving she could be as funny as any man out there but she also was breaking molds by being obviously very heavy. Everything about her is something you don't get to see in movies very often and it's refreshing to have Hollywood recognize that a woman in film doesn't have to be 4% body fat. Sadly, all of the success and milestones McCarthy has earned have been torn down by not only starring in such a horrible comedy but writing it as well.
Tammy is about a woman who is not only a loser with no ambition, goals, money or intelligence, but she also never deserves to gain any either. For someone that so many women in America admire for bucking the standard, she writes herself a horrendously pitiful character that revels in the fact that she's a fat, stupid a-hole. The only person in the movie that is even worse than her is her grandmother, played by Susan Sarandon. She's a drunk, pill-popping, selfish old woman who agrees to let Tammy "run away from home" just so she can feel young again...I guess.
Aside from McCarthy and Sarandon the rest of the cast has the strongest women in film as well, such as Kathy Bates (Misery), Allison Janney (Juno), Sandra Oh (Sideways), and Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine). Between all of these highly talented women there is about 5 Oscarn nominations and a few wins. It's a damn outrage that all this talent is wasted on such ridicously pointless and one-dimensional characters. It's enough wasted talent to make a true movie fan seeth in their theater seat.
Tammy is not just an unfunny comedy; it's a crime. There is almost nothing original about it but that's forgivable. It plays to the lowest common denominator of movier-goers and even that can get a pass from me. What makes this such a horrid film is that it takes true female talent, crumbles it up and throws it out the window. Women are shockingly under-represented in Hollywood and all-female casts are as rare as albino adult animals in the wild. Films like Bridesmaids, Fried Green Tomatoes, Pitch Perfect and Mean Girls are reminders that Hollywood sucks for not offering more women the chance to prove they can kick as much ass as all-men movies. Films like Tammy are reminders that maybe they can't and that makes me sad.
I'm somebody who suffers from jealousy. When it comes to celebrities I don't let it eat at me too much since it's such an unobtainable profession. There is something about directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller though that makes me insanely jealous and it successfully eats at me. It's not just that they're talented and really funny, it's that they also have managed to pull off making A-quality raunchy R-rated films and smart children's movies as well. Besides this and 21 Jump Street, they also blew me away with the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs films and The Lego Movie (which still might be my favorite of 2014). With jealousy comes satisfaction when someone stumbles so maybe I'm enjoying the misfires of 22 Jump Street more than I should.
When 21 Jump Street came out two years ago I don't think anyone was prepared for how funny it was. It made me realize two things; one, don't write off a movie because its source material is stupid and two, Channing Tatum is really funny. By 2012 I had hit bottom with my Jonah Hill addiction. Like everyone else, I dabbled with him when I was younger, became hooked with Superbad but was fully ODed by the time Get Him to the Greek came out. Despite winning me back with performances in great films like Wolf of Wall Street, Moneyball and Django Unchained, I still can't enjoy him like I used to. Tatum, on the other hand, has taken the opposite course and I'm all aboard the Channing Train.
One quality the original 21 Jump Street film had was its ability to laugh at its own premise and lampoon it. That shows up here in that it mocks sequels in general and how they're just more of the same but with a bigger budget. It's a very funny, very effective gag in the first act but 80 minutes later they're still making the same jokes and it's tired and exhausting. It's also not very original, which isn't a crime, but Muppets Most Wanted just took the same approach and did it better.
There are plenty of stellar comedic moments in 22 Jump Street and most people around me never seemed to grow tired of the film. I, on the other hand, loved the first half and hated the second. I can't remember a recent film that burned out so quickly and so hard. Graduating the premise to college instead of high school is funny at first but then it's filled with every cliche you can imagine and padded with subplots and character relationships that are ridiculous and seem to serve no purpose.
Directors Lord and Miller are two guys, not much older than me, that understand comedy on both an adult and childish level. In their short but growing resume they have nothing but success. A spiteful, petty person like me usually loves it when someone that successful fires off a dud. 22 Jump Street isn't a dud by a long shot. Is it a stumble compared to everything else they've done? Absolutely. It's an enjoyable piece of comedy but completely forgettable. It's not something you'd want to own. It's not something you'd recommend. It's not something you look forward to seeing again. And that is a considered a misfire for these two talented directors.
It's been four years since we've seen Angelina Jolie in anything and the last time we did it was in one of the biggest box office failures of the year. I understand that she's a mother of 40 kids and when you're married to Brad Pitt you don't have to be the bread-winner but c'mon, Angie! We miss you! Well, we miss seeing you because as far as your movies go, you actually don't have a stellar record of making good ones. I know it's hard to believe but pull up her IMDB page and check it out for yourself. She's someone we love as Hollywood royalty without ever really earning it. That's not to say she's not a great actress because she is. In fact, she's one of the only great things about Maleficent.
The titular character of this re-telling of Sleeping Beauty is interesting. It's been 55 years since Walt Disney made this (which was a box office and critical failure at the time, mind you) and 317 years since the original source material was published. Out of all the Disney villains, Maleficent consistently ranks at the top, which is why Disney decided to make this film. However, when you go down the predicatble and dissapointing road of telling a story from a villain's perspective and make them a misunderstood softy-at-heart, you strip away everything that we loved about them in the first place.
See, there are villains that we love to hate and villains that we just plain hate; both are excellent for a story. But when you make the villain the star and then also make them the sympathetic hero, it's not what we love about the character anymore. Sure, they look the same and talk the same but they don't act the same. That choice was crippling for this film. Make Maleficent dark and twitsted and complicated. I know it's Disney and they were even aiming for a PG rating (which I'm shocked they got), but if those are your guidelines, then don't make it.
Director Robert Stromberg seemed to throw any original vision he might have had out the window and instead tore pages from the playbook of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, HBO's Game of Thrones and even a little of James Cameron's Avatar. That type of unoriginality should've been expected by a guy like Stromberg who never directed a single thing before this but was an Oscar-winning visual effects master. He's used to having people tell him what their vision is and never had to come up with one himself. I can't blame him for doing it this way since he's had over 20 years of experience doing just that.
Maleficent also wasn't helped by a good script either. It has the slowest and soggiest middle I've seen in months, has shockingly sparce dialogue and crams in unwatchable scenes of levity provided by the three fairies. Despite all that, Angelina Jolie is pretty great in it. Her brief performance that features Maleficent's wings cut off is agonizingly sad for a PG-rated film. Maybe I'm reading into it too much but I wonder if she pulled from her real life and what it was like to part with her breasts after her double mastectomy. Knowing that she went through that makes that scene simply heartbreaking and perhaps the only magic found in an otherwise very forgettable film.
Let's all pretend for a second that we're not a tad exhausted with X-Men films. Out of all the Marvel comic book characters, The Uncanny X-Men was the series that I got into the most as a kid. I knew all the main characters and probably half of the 100 or so secondary characters. I loved them for the action and appreciated the allegory for Civil Rights as I got older. But even I have my limits and Fox has squeezed so much blood from the franchise that even vampires are saying "okay, enough is enough."
Imagine that X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and The Wolverine didn't happen. If you take those three terrible films out of the canon you're left with a film series that has been stellar. Days of Future Past acts as a sequel and prequel to all of them but primarily the good ones that are left, X-Men, X2: X-Men United and X-Men: First Class, which I regard as one of the best superhero films ever made. This is based on a storyline in the comic books that came out in the early '80s and is regarded as one of the best comic books ever made (although they tweaked it to accomodate which stars were more box office bait). The film recognizes the gravity of that and does a damn good job of living up to the legend.
One of the most impressive things about it is that director Bryan Singer (the first two X-Men films, Superman Returns) convinced the entire cast of the original films and from First Class to return and star in Days of Future Past, which takes place in the 1970s and the 2020s. That cast consists of Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Jennifer Lawerence, Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy. It also features cameo performances from almost anyone who's ever played a mutant in any of the better films. Simply pulling that off is impressive enough.
Since the movie involves time travel and alternate futures it might challenge some of the more passive viewers but I was impressed at how unconfusing they laid it all out. The script is smart, witty and exciting. The action sequences are some of the more impressive in the entire X-Men series, including one with a soon-to-be fan favorite Quicksilver that has one of the funniest and coolest scenes I've seen from any superhero movie ever. The unfortunate part is that these moments of violent eye candy are too far apart.
Days of Future Past has a runtime of over two hours and is book-ended by awesomeness. The middle of the film slows down to a near crawl and actually gets a little boring at times. For some reason, First Class kept my attention the entire time despite being an entirely new cast from what we've seen. I can only credit that to Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, Layer Cake), who is a much better director than Singer. I know that it was only fair that the man who started the series (and some could argue the reign of the comic book movie) 13 years ago be the one that's allowed to finish it. Singer does a fine job and Days of Future Past is a great film; it just makes me wish I could get Kitty Pryde to send me back in time so I could get Vaughn to direct this instead.
Before the screening of Blended began, I was talking with some of the other film critics that I was sitting with. They are professionals and know what they're talking about; I, on the other hand, am not. We were discussing Adam Sandler and his body of work. I was being my usual charming self and was completely admitting that I'm biased against him and was going into this movie on the assumption that it was going to be as lousy as almost everything else he's ever done. I know that's not how a film critic should act but I just couldn't help myself. Despite all the chips that have accumulated on my shoulder for my opinion that never has someone made so much money on such little talent as Adam Sandler, the movie wasn't as bad as I thought.
I like Drew Barrymore. She's not a good actress and never was but there's something adorable about her. Sandler is such a black hole of talent, however, that he sucks her appeal out of her and into himself where it's crushed into nothingness. The two of them are completely unbelievable as a romantic couple, just as they were in 50 First Dates. That's not to say that they don't have chemistry; they do in the same way that brothers and sisters do. It's good that you rarely see them kiss in Blended because when you do it's kinda icky.
The film is about two single parents who hate each other at first but through a wacky coincidence find themselves forced together on an African vacation and, sure enough, find out that they and their families are just what the other needed. Sure I spoiled the ending a bit but if you don't see the entire movie spilled out in front of you in the first five minutes than you're a halfwit with no gauge for predictable patterns. Just because it's as formuliac as Algebra doesn't mean that there isn't anything positive in it. I thought it was nice to see Sandler and Barrymore stop pretending to be young, hip lovers and embrace the fact that they're both in their 40s and play those older parent stereotypes.
Director Frank Coraci has a certain style to his movies and that style is mainly suck. He's responsible for films such as Here Comes the Boom, Waterboy, Zookeeper, and The Wedding Singer. He's not bad at trying to replicate the directing style of Tamra Davis, who is the director who did Billy Madison. That style of completely wacky, nonsensical comedy is not super easy to pull off and Coraci handles it but only in that he's copying her brand of film.
Despite fleeting moments that made me chuckle, the film had all the heart and humor of a commercial. The entire thing felt like a two-hour-long episode of any crappy show you'd see on The Disney Channel. I would be a jerk if I didn't say that the whole theater did laugh at a lot during the screening. I know that Sandler has his audience and for what they like (mainly fart jokes and people falling down) Blended has it all. I don't get it though. It's not my sense of humor and frankly, I can't understand how it's anyone's who has graduated from 8th grade.
Four years ago Gareth Edwards directed a film called Monsters, which was about a journalist escourting a woman to the safe zone in the U.S. after an alien invasion. The film was made for a very modest budget but looked like it was made for a massive one. It was hailed by critics and took on a loyal cult following. I hated it and thought it was boring; granted, that might have been because I watched it on my iPhone on a plane but I feel like I got enough sense of it to know it wasn't for me. But Edwards impressed the right people with it because they gave him that massive budget to see what he could do to blow new blue, misty fire into Godzilla.
As much as I like monster movies, Godzilla never did much for me. I understand that they're not well-made and that's part of their charm. However, liking something because it's ironic or mastering the hipster art of appreciating things because they're bad was a skill I didn't aquire till a few years ago. That being said, this version of Godzilla is pretty good. The anticipation was high on the Internet, primarily from ardent loyalists to the canon, but after a slew of impressive trailers, even people like me got goosebumps. That might have worked against it.
See, nothing is sadder than when a trailer is better than the movie and that's what we have here. If you want to make a shallow monster/disaster film, that's totally fine with me. I forget them the second after I see it but I enjoy them while I'm watching. But the trailers promised more than that and Edwards had the reputation to deliver. Combine that with the casting of Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad, Drive), Ken Wantanabe (The Last Samurai, Batman Begins) and Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine, An Education), all of which have won awards, I expect a script that is more than chaos. It isn't.
That's why someone like Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Savages, the Kick-Ass movies) is the lead. He's not a bad actor but he's not a good one either. He's someone you would expect to see in a movie like Godzilla, much like Shia LaBeouf before he mistook himself for something important. He, along with the gorgeous Elizabeth Olsen (Marcy Martha Mae Marlene, Oldboy), play the same husband/wife team you see in every disaster film. That's because Godzilla, at its core, is nothing new and nothing different.
Make no mistake however that the imagery that Edwards shows is pretty spectacular and fun. A lot of time and cash was spent making the destruction of San Francisco and Las Vegas look as real as possible and they succeed. I wish I could tell you why the destruction scenes are more than just a giant lizard pushing buildings over but that would spoil one of the most pleasant surprises for a lot of people. In what is shaping up to be a rather bland summer so far, Godzilla is a nice appetizer for what will hopefully be the main courses of Hollywood blockbusters still to come.