Friday, July 25, 2014

What to Watch This Weekend: July 25, 2014

In Theaters: Hercules
A surprisingly good summer movie that has Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in the perfect role.

From Redbox: 300: Rise of an Empire
A movie that really feels like a stepping stone before the next in the trilogy, but it has enough of the hooks and a similar style as the first film to make for an enjoyable rental.

Streaming (Amazon): The Spectacular Now
Probably the weakest of the three coming of age indie movies last summer, but Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley give emotional performances highlighting the struggles of youth and growing up.

Streaming (Netflix and Amazon): Much Ado About Nothing
Joss Whedon's remarkably simple, black and white take on the Shakespeare play is a joy to watch, keeping the original dialog but adding smart modern touches to the classic.

Review: Hercules

Release date: July 25, 2014
Running time: 96 minutes
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, John Hurt, Ian McShane
Who to see it with: A fan of the Rock or fun summer movies


In what seems like the twentieth Hercules movie, and the second this year after the lackluster Legend of Hercules, Hercules and his band of mercenary outcasts are hired to help an aging king defeat a rising threat to his empire. This movie stars a less grandiose Hercules who appears to be running from his past deeds and accepting work for the highest bidder. It's an interesting premise and one that is refreshingly different from what you would expect. Hercules is not alone in this journey and is joined by warriors who have encountered him on his fabled labours. It adds some nice variety to the group and definitely gives the film an Avengers type feel (even with similar types of characters: Atalanta is Hawkeye, Tydeus is kind of like the Hulk, Amphiaraus is kind of like Iron Man with his humor and use of mechanical weapons, Hercules is kind of like Captain America, and Autolycus is Black Widow). 

The Rock tends to make any movie he's in better, and this is no exception. Dwayne Johnson was born to play Hercules and he looks convincingly ripped and charismatic. And although the story feels like a launching pad for additional movies, it's a fun journey. Sure it doesn't make a ton of sense but it's a high-octane action movie that has a fun cast of characters. Further, it provides a different take on Hercules that is slightly deeper than your general he's a half-man, half-god that can do everything movie. The fighting is hit or miss, with some really exciting battles marred by some less than stellar execution. The story has plenty of dramatic moments (some might say overly dramatic) and plenty of cliches, but then again it's a summer movie so what do you expect. The effects are pretty obviously CG but are enjoyable at least. Don't go to Hercules expecting to be blown away, but if you're looking for a fun summer movie that will entertain you for a few hours, this is one for you.

Rent it.

PS - There are some nice animated vignettes during the start of the credits that help to fill in some additional back story. It's a nice touch and make sure to stay for those!

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 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.