Friday, July 18, 2014

What to Watch This Weekend: July 18, 2014

In Theaters: Boyhood
An ambitious project that comes together due to the dedication and care of Linklater and his amazing cast.

From Redbox: Lego Movie
One of the best animated movies I've seen in a long time, this film makes the world of Lego come alive.

Streaming (Netflix): The Master
Critically acclaimed film featuring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix, this movie tells the story of a heavy-drinking veteran who meets the founder of a new "religion." 

Streaming (Amazon): Sound City
A documentary about one of the most famous recording studios that is narrated by the Foo Fighters's Dave Grohl. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Review: Boyhood

Release date: July 18, 2014
Running time: 166 minutes
Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater
Who to see it with: Anyone who has had a childhood


I tried to think of something that I've done that's taken 12 years. I originally thought of my education, but despite many, many years in college, it doesn't cross the 12 year mark. The closest thing would be my longest (and essentially only) relationship, but even that hasn't quite lasted a dozen years. What director Richard Linklator has done is nothing short of astounding; dedicating himself to filming a family for this period of time. This allows the audience to watch Mason (Coltrane) literally grow before their eyes from ages 5 to 18. You get to see young Mason go through school, move to a new city, experience puberty, have dreams and expectations, and experience hardship; basically, the audience gets the opportunity to watch him experience life. And as Mason grows, so does the cast around him: his sister, his mother, his father, and some special people throughout his "life."

Additionally, the film acts as a sort of time capsule, authentically reminding you of past periods as the story progresses. Cell phones become more modern, musical tastes change, the internet becomes more prevalent; essentially everything that movies try to do to capture a specific period in time is done perfectly because of the unique situation of this film. 

If there is one criticism of Boyhood, it's that there aren't many overly dramatic moments. Life has highs and lows, and so does this movie, but nothing really earth shattering happens to young Mason or his family. I guess the director wanted to simply focus on the intricacies of life, the subtle changes that happen as we grow up, or maybe Linklater wanted to portray a more normal, non-Hollywood life. Either way, I kept expecting a tectonic shift to occur that never did. However, I can't fault the movie for realistically portraying life when that is the point of the film.

Boyhood is a masterpiece; due simply to the dedication and care that Linklater takes to craft this experience. Just thinking about the risk that the director took for this project blows my mind: what if one of the actors quit acting or died, what if Coltrane ended up being a poor actor years later, what if any number of things happened in the intervening 12 years? However, all great art carries with it inherent risks, and like all great risks, the potential payout is immense. 

See it.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Release date: July 11, 2014
Running time: 130 minutes
Starring: Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, 
Who to see it with: Jane Goodall, or someone who wanted a little more fighting than the last film.


The latest reboot of Planet of the Apes series, starting with 2011's surprisingly good Rise of the Planet of the Apes, introduced a new generation to the Apes franchise. The 2011 film was noticeably better than the critically mixed, but financially successful, 2001 film starring Mark Wahlberg. Rise of the Planet of the Apes introduced audiences to Caesar, an ape treated with an anti-Alzheimer's drug that causes him to develop super intelligence. In Rise, a group of similarly treated apes escape into the forests of San Francisco.  It is later discovered that the Alzheimer's drug has a deadly effect on humans exposed to it, and the movie concludes with a graphic showing the spread of "Ape flu" across the globe. 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes picks up several years after the flu has devasated the world's population. Caesar and his colony are firmly entrenched in Muir Woods. However, the encroachment of a group of humans, looking for a source of energy to power their camp, threatens to escalate into a conflict that neither party will survive. The first thing you notice about the new film are the impressive visuals. At first, it's a little off putting and it looks almost like an animated film given the large number of primate protagonists. The apes really approach, and sometimes fall into, the uncanny valley, but luckily that is less noticeable once some humans populate the screen. The world of the film also looks impressive and decidedly apocalyptic. 

The plot is fairly predictable and drags on for an overly long time. It's not that a lot doesn't happen--and this is a film that must set up a lot for the inevitable conclusion film--but much of it feels like it could be sped up or trimmed to make the movie a more concise event. Part of this might also be that the movie feels like a long setup for the third film in the series. It addresses some poignant subjects and has some interesting ideas, but they take too long to explore. The characters are fun to meet, but no one is as captivating as James Franco was from the first film. Additionally, many of the archetypes are the most extreme versions, some of the characters are more nuanced but this is generally a very black and white film. And finally, the dialog feels very cliched, but I am not sure how much of that is a throwback to the old films and how much is bad writing. 


Friday, June 13, 2014

Review: 22 Jump Street

Release date: June 13, 2014
Running time: 112 minutes
Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Peter Stormare, Wyatt Russell, Amber Stevens
Who to see it with: Bros who like self-aware comedy


Follow-ups to surprise hits often try to outdo their predecessors by repeating their successful formulas while making everything bigger and broader. 22 does this while winking at the audience with self-aware jokes that poke fun at the nature of action sequels. Once again, Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) go undercover at a school, this time a college. This makes their older appearances stand out slightly less, though poor, younger Jonah Hill remains a popular target for age-related humor. Another rift forms between the cops for very similar reasons, with a few changes that swap Schmidt and Jenko's roles. The setting unsurprisingly leads to fraternity antics, but is so focused upon Schmidt and Jenko that it never feels like a retread of Neighbors.

The sequel mocking is often funny and a smart way to differentiate 22 from other sequels; it also feels like an easy excuse for the filmmakers to put Schmidt and Jenko through a slightly altered version of 21's plot. Fortunately, Hill and Tatum are still fun to watch. They still have an organic, clashing, brotherly love that's fun to watch even during the not so funny scenes. This time, Captain Dickson becomes more involved in the case, giving Ice Cube more opportunities to get in on the action and comedy. Peter Stormare plays a bland villain. Little time is wasted on him and his scenes allow Schmidt, Jenko and other more energetic characters to shine, but I felt each of 21's high school antagonists contributed to the comedy. The self-referential humor can get old, and the jokes are sometimes just dumb rather than dumb fun. 22 Jump Street offers more of 21's fun bromance and back-to-school humor but is not totally unlike the sequels that it mocks.

NOTE: There's a funny scene during the credits AND a brief one following the credits.


What to Watch This Weekend: June 13, 2014

In Theaters: Obvious Child 
It technically opened last week but it's getting a wider release this week. It's an indie gem that has an equal blend of heart and funny.

From Redbox: Her
Possibly my favorite movie from last year. Just see it, it's an amazing film.

Streaming (Netflix): Omar
In our indie themed What 2 Watch, we have another well received indie film (91% on Rotten Tomatoes) about a young couple who live on opposite sides of an Israeli boundary wall in Palestine.

Streaming (Netflix, Amazon): Cabin in the Woods
It's Friday the 13th, so why not watch one of the better horror movies to come out recently! Cabin in the Woods was surprisingly good so check it out if you're hoping for a scare.

Review: How to Train Your Dragon 2

Release date: June 13, 2014
Running time: 102 minutes
Starring: Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Djimon Hounsou
Who to see it with: Someone who likes cute creatures and drama


How to Train Your Dragon surprised many with a mix of fun and drama that stood apart from other Dreamworks films, and its sequel will likely satisfy fans in the same way. This time, Hiccup and his vikings must face the prospect of war after encountering a violent group of dragon collectors. Hiccup is also uncomfortable with his father's desire to make him into his tribal chief successor. These clashes bring much debate about the inevitability of war and the pressures of accepting greater responsibility.

HtTYD 2 is a fun adventure, but its pace often slows as Hiccup deals with growing pains and unexpected revelations. There's comic relief—often provided by Hiccup's wacky friends—but the movie sometimes feels more like a family drama rather than a dragon-packed adventure. The slower parts run a little long but add a sense of weight that many recent animated films lack. Darker moments provide meaningful character developments that promise interesting, new dynamics and relationships for the inevitable sequel. There's enough action and drama to keep adults interested, while any kid or animal lover will enjoy the animation of the many dragons, who act like giant, playful, winged cats and dogs. The dragons and their relationships with their owners are the highlights of the film. How to Train Your Dragon 2 should entertain entire families with its combination of fun creatures and family conflicts.


I agree with Lee on a lot of these points, especially that the darker moments provide more weight and character development for the film, but I didn't like the overall darkness. Maybe I'm getting old, but I thought the movie had a little too much drama and unnecessarily somber scenes for a movie primarily appealing to kids and families. That's not to say kids movies can't have that (Disney's Up does it perfectly) but in this case it seemed overblown and inappropriate. That being said, the story is at times fun, the animation is gorgeous, and I especially love the dog-like dragons. 


Review: The Signal

Release date: June 13, 2014 (Spooooky)
Running time: 95 minutes
Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Olivia Cooke, Beau Knapp, Laurence Fishburne
Who to see it with: Someone hoping for a little more suspense in their sci-fi


The Signal doesn't know what kind of movie it wants to be. Is it a horror-style scary movie, or a psychological sci-fi film? Well, it's kind of both and this straddling the line ends up hurting the movie. The film follows a group of college friends on a cross-country trip that gets derailed due to a detour to track down a rogue hacker. The initial part of the film works kind of like your typical horror movie, with plenty of suspense and uncertainty. After this ridiculous situation, it turns into a psychological sci-fi thriller with more suspense and uncertainty. 

For most of the film, Brenton Thwaites is asked to carry the movie, and he does a good job of it. He is an interesting lead character that is easily likable, even if some of his decisions are pretty bone-headed. He's joined by some other lesser known actors and eventually by Laurence Fishburne, who does a great job of playing an eerily calm researcher trying to figure out what happened to the three kids. The story develops slowly, with some strange occurrences and unanswered questions that linger until the end. And, although the ending does try to wrap up some of the uncertainty (I was actually thinking it would end without leaving any answers), the film ends up being unfulfilling given how quickly it tries to tie up the loose ends. 

Many of the questions are left unanswered, although sometimes they're hinted at, and the film seems to have weird situations for the sake of being weird. The cinematography is beautiful, and there are plenty of wonderful shots that show how good the movie could have been. But, in the end, the film feels like more of a style piece than anything. It doesn't explain much and leaves the viewers with more questions than answers. It's not a total train wreck, some of the ideas are interesting and the film has some good effects and cinematography, but the lack of identity really hurts what could have been a fresh film.


I enjoyed the identity crisis. It contributes to the scattered story but also adds more unpredictability. I'm thankful that the horror portion is brief because the characters attempt to commit as many clich├ęd horror movie mistakes as possible in just a few minutes. The storytelling is often intriguingly mysterious, but the mystery and plot sometimes rely too much on informed characters needlessly withholding helpful information. Laurence Fishburne's character is almost comically unhelpful in his interactions with the friends. This behavior makes slightly more sense after seeing the ending, but their strange methods seem a bit unnatural and designed to create plot twists. I enjoyed the few comedic moments though they clash with the movie's serious tone. The Signal is a mysterious and refreshingly open-ended science fiction story with unsatisfying storytelling.