Bring on the apes

August 17, 2011


Notes from the back row— Aug 2
Monkey business

How does it feel to be the most sought after actor on the planet but only for roles where no one will ever actually see you? Andy Serkis has live-motion-capture acted three classic characters in the past decade— Gollum in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, the giant gorilla King Kong (also by Jackson) and now Caesar, another monkey and the protagonist of Rise of the Planet of the Apes which opens this Friday at both the Village 8 and Garibaldi 5.
Planet of the Apes is a 1968 Charlton Heston classic best remembered for the twist ending—I don’t want to give it away because it’s killer and the original Planet of the Apes is the download of the week but the five Apes sequels, including Tim Burton’s “re-imagining” back in 2001, don’t really hold up to the original. This one does, however, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes is very satisfying.
First of all, it’s a revolution picture and revolutions are really hot right now. As well, the apes are played by actual humans wired for motion-capture and the CGI effects (from the teams that did Lord of the Rings and Avatar) are really good. Each simian has its own personality and identity.) Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the kind of film that hinges almost entirely on its effects and I think Director Rupert Wyatt (Dark Days, The Escapist) and his team pull it off smashingly. This is the first movie to really demonstrate Avatar’s legacy— New stories can be told and films can be made differently now (and Andy Serkis is the digital Marlon Brando.)
James Franco doesn’t play an ape but rather stars as an uber-focused scientist who’s trying to cure Alzheimer’s but instead figures out how to make monkeys really smart. After his research is scrapped by the top brass, James ends up with a baby ape which he raises with the help of a smoking hot Vet/primatologist played by Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire.) Shit goes downhill when the just-add-a-montage new lovers are forced to relinquish their monkey back to the lab.
It’s not a perfect picture. The moral lessons (humans are cocky and overly arrogant with regards to nature) are nothing we haven’t seen before and the bad guys are also kind of stock but the film’s doubled-up father-son dynamic has some emotional heft and all the stuff with the apes is pretty kick-ass, the last third of the two-hour film is almost all crazy, balls-out monkey action.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes may look like just another reboot but it’s the reboot of the Summer and they had me at “Freida Pinto”, who shines in a criminally underdeveloped role.
The main criticism for The Change-Up, an r-rated Freaky Friday role reversal flick also opening friday, is that the sappy ending where everyone makes up and hugs is a little contrived and lacks punch but that is the case for almost all comedies lately and no one watches a funny movie for the unfunny part at the end, they watch it for the 70-80 minutes of funny bits that lead there. The Change-Up has some funny bits. Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman star as the single man and the family man (respectively) and they switch roles after pissing in a religious wishing well one night. The Change-Up is crude and rude but delivers some real laughs despite that the script isn’t genius (but it’s by the guys that wrote The Hangover), the humour is potty-and-tittie-based (nothing wrong with that) and the cast is mostly just monkeying around.


The Woman in Black- Teaser

August 17, 2011

A lot of people wondered if Daniel Radcliffe will ever be able to shake the Harry Potter role and move on career wise. Remember when he was on the stage naked a few years back, that was the first step. This is the second. The Woman in Black looks pretty kick-ass and should prevent Radcliffe from falling into the same single-typecast trap that plagues Stiffler and McLovin.


give me the benfits.

July 24, 2011

Notes from the back row- July 17

with friends like this....

It’s mid-July and the leaves across the street from my place are starting to turn yellow. I’m not even kidding— this Summer has been so lugubrious the trees think it’s Fall. Weather this dismal is really only good for two things— going out to the movies, or staying in and screwing. Or you can get a bit of both in Friends with Benefits, opening Friday at Whistler’s Village 8 and the Garibaldi 5 in Squamish.
Justin Timberlake stars as a California design whiz who gets recruited by the hottest NYC corporate headhunter ever Mila Kunis. JT moves to the East Coast and takes a dream job but in order to get her commission, Mila has to keep him there for at least a year so they quickly decide to give the old “just friends humping” scenario a go.
In real life that rarely works, in the movies—never. But despite the predictability of its premise (and the fact that Natalie Portman’s No Strings Attached offered the same premise six months ago) Friends With Benefits works better than expected. Sure, it falls prey to way too many of the standard Rom-Com clichés it tries so desperately to poke fun at, and some of the dialogue is a bit pukey, but a funny thing happens right off the start— Kunis and Timberlake display real chemistry. Kunis worked comedy for years on TV’s That 70’s Show and as the voice of Meg on The Family Guy and here proves she can act the pants off anything. Watch out Angelina there’s a new star in town.
JT holds his own and the all-time supporting cast includes the always-incredible Richard Jenkins (Say it Isn’t So), Patricia Clarkson (Easy A), Woody Harrelson, Andy Samberg, Emma Stone and more.
Director Will Gluck (Easy A) goes a little heavy on the old-style snappy banter and there are two (too many?) flash mob scenes but in a summer where the weekly movie quality mirrors the weather Friends With Benefits is worth checking out, if only to learn what not to do when your stumble upon your own golden chance at being someone’s “F*ck buddy”.
Also opening, Captian America the last Marvel Comics prequel-flick we’ll have to endure before next summer’s Avengers movie (but who cares? They were never as cool or gritty as the X-Men, kind of pansy actually, more like The Fantastic Four.)
This one is about a skinny Yankee Doodle in the Second World War who’s told he’s not fit for duty. He persists, shows a bit of gumption and gets signed up to be injected with a super-soldier serum that transforms him into something that looks like the Ultimate Warrior crossed with a Ken doll. Captain America then goes on the propaganda tour (which is what the comic character was originally created for back in the 1940s) before finally seeing some shield-tossing action and then ramping up into full-on superhero and saving the day.
If it sounds flat it’s because it is. There is no digging into the real conflict or ideologies between the Nazi splinter cell Hydra and the forces of good. There is only action and unexplained mythical laser beam weapons. It feels like a cheap set-up to get your money but i guess i am probably expecting too much from a movie based on a c-rate comic hero. No one can deny Marvel films is pretty hit and miss with adult audiences.
Speaking of super soldiers, the Download of the Week is Hanna, starring Saoirse Ronan as a teenage girl/super assassin raised in isolation and then unleashed on the world. It’s the best coming of age movie in a long time and also has that vibrant, Euro, Run Lola Run awesome energy to it that just makes Hollywood’s latest flicks seem all the more tired, soggy, damp and stupid.


The End of Potter.

July 16, 2011

Rose Byrne

Notes from the back row- July 12, 2011

Wizards rule. Sure they’re a bit nerdy— their power comes from remembering books and thinking real hard— and they aren’t usually strong enough to single-chop off an Orc’s head nor dashing enough to nail an Elf princess but Wizards are cool nonetheless. They dress for comfort with big floppy hats, robes and killer beards and Wizards don’t give a shit what other people think. They’ll turn you into a newt if you step to them.
Harry Potter however— not really that cool. Actually he appears to be wearing a bomber jacket on the poster for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II, which opens this week at both the Village 8 and Squamish’s Garibaldi 5. A bomber jacket is utterly un-Wizardly. It’s trying way too hard to look tough, and we all know it’s pretty much impossible to look tough when you’re carrying a wand. “Ooooohhhhh watch out! Here comes Harry Potter and his wand!” Ask any seven-year-old with a loose tooth, wands are for fairies.
Don’t get me wrong— the Harry Potter books are great for kids but cinematically, I’m tired of that guy. This is the eighth Potter flick, EIGHTH!! You know the best thing about Friday the 13th Part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan? You didn’t need to recall every detail of the other seven to make sense of what you were watching. Not the case with Potter’s films, the first of which came out a decade ago. Who can remember that? Kids maybe.
Anyhow, in this, the final installment, Potter fights off the evil Voldemort and it’s an balls-out Wizard war chock full of real action and battle scenes mashed together with profound messages about life, death, love, loyalty and all that other good stuff. Deathly Hallows Part 2 is actually one of the best Potter films, and also the shortest at just over two hours (many fans will call it too short.)
From giant spiders to dragons to Wizards spurting balls of magic all over each other, Deathly Hallows 2 packs a hefty punch (and a few kisses) but unfortunately the spectacle again overpowers the storytelling and unless you already know what’s going on, it’s hard to tell what is actually going on. Or why you should care.
But if you like Harry Potter, if you love Harry Potter, you’re gonna go apeshit for this one. The tale of the Boy-Wizard finally concludes and it’s a helluva ride.
For more adult tastes, especially adults who menstrate, the Village 8 is bringing back Bridesmaids, the Kristen Wiig tour-de-force about a down-on-her-luck baker who competes with a rich, well-put together bitch (Rose Byrne) to host the ultimate bridal experience for a friend (Maya Rudolph.)
Bridesmaids is entertaining (I chuckled) but certainly women are gonna dig this way more than dudes. Writers Wiig and Annie Mumolo use their feminine touch and produce a flick that’s unique and totally relatable for the fairer sex. Compare this to something like the male-written (male-fantasy) Cameron Diaz vehicle Bad Teacher and it’s easy to see why Bridesmaids has pulled in $158 million domestically and become the most successful chick-targeted R-Rated comedy ever (beating out Sex and the Shitty.)
Hopefully the film execs are paying attention to Bridesmaids’ success and will start bankrolling more female-driven projects. Judging by the crap heap of films Hollywood’s pinched out onto us this summer, they really have nothing to lose.
The Download of the Week is an overly gory, hyper-violent and super stylized 80’s exploitation homage that’s even cooler than a Wizard with a laser gun. It’s Hobo with a Shotgun, it’s Canadian-made, and it’s definitely not for the Potter crowd.


Horrible Bosses and Kevin James next horrible movie

July 8, 2011

If she is the boss i like the company's dress code.

Notes from the back row- July 5th/2011

For years I’ve been pretty hard on the Whistler Village 8 for not having a 3D projector but it turns out Whistler’s lack of 3D might also mean we are seeing our films in better quality than other places.
There’s been a bit of controversy– apparently theatre owners and projectionists have been cutting corners and projecting on the cheap, lowering the luminance to extend the lives of their bulbs. (The 3D bulbs apparently cost twice as much as regular ones, and burn out twice as fast.)
Many people have complained that the 3D films look “too dark” and apparently Michael Bay recently sent a note to all 3D theatres imploring them to screen Transformers 3 with the projection specifications he included.
But the story doesn’t end there. Apparently some theatres are also running their 2D movies through the 3D projectors because swapping out a 3D projector is a lot of work and usually requires an expensive technician but 3D projectors distort the image on 2D flicks. So we can all thank the Village 8 for at least projecting our films properly and at the best quality possible.
(Here’s a tip – if you are watching a 2D movie somewhere else and it looks like crap, turn around. If you see two beams of light coming from the projection booth it means they are using the 3D system and screwing with the way the film should look. Ask for your money back plus a free pass.)
Of course, film projection is a real art form. Both Hitler and Joesph Stalin were huge movie buffs with private theaters and personal projectionists sweating bullets to make sure they didn’t screw up. The Inside Circle is a 1991 Russian film about a bright young projectionist who gets the gig working for Stalin only to realize that any mistake, even one botched reel swap-over, would mean certain death. Stalin, it seems, was a horrible boss.
And so, apparently, is Jennifer Anniston, who plays a sexed-up dentist continually harassing her sissy male hygienist in Horrible Bosses, opening (in beautiful 2D) this week at the Village 8.
Three losers (Charlie Day, Jason Sudekis, Jason Bateman) decide that in these tough economic times the only way to further their careers is to kill their bosses (Aniston, Colin Farrell, and Kevin Spacey.) Of course, things go horribly awry.
Horrible Bosses director Seth Gordon made King Of Kong, one of the best documentaries of recent years, but he’s also responsible for the Reese Witherspoon/Vince Vaughn crapheap Four Christmases so this one could go either way. It goes kinda bad.
Unlike Office Space, a classic comedy about the emasculation of the working man, Horrible Bosses gives us characters who are such pussies it defeats the premise. We don’t care for these guys and don’t feel they deserve success. The film is mostly montages and rape jokes but other than a few bits of humour and good-girl Jen Aniston talking slutty Horrible Bosses is a misfire, a squandered chance at doing something funny with a better-than-decent cast. Stupid R-rated humour can be awesome, so long as it isn’t too stupid.
Zookeeper also opens this Friday and to call it stupid would be high praise. Kevin James, who sucks yet continues to get work, stars as a zookeeper who has a hard time with the ladies. To help him out all the zoo animals suddenly reveal their secret (they can talk!) and vow to help him get a lady using their animal-style mating advice. It’s a PG rated kids movie with talking animals trying to help a loser get some pussy. So beyond stupid you could say this movie sucks asinine.


good short film – Plot Device

July 4, 2011

Plot Device from Red Giant on Vimeo.

Hardly anyone ever watches short films because so many of them are arty filmschool garbage made by people with fancy equipment and nothing to say and little or no sense of humour. This little flick though, is worth watching. Aimed primarily at geeky filmmakers, it still holds up for regular movie folks too. Good work Seth Worley and the people at Red Giant


Bad Teacher, Cars 2, Transformers

June 23, 2011

Bad Teacher, no apple.

Notes from the back row- June 21

Bad teachers and junky Cars

I’m down on teachers– high school especially. To be fair, molding the minds of our future is perhaps the most important job out there, and no teacher is paid what they should be, but as a kid I just wasn’t buying the whole uber-authoritive, all-knowing vibe many of them were laying down (plus I f@ckin’ knew I’d never use the quadratic equation ever again in my life, or need to know what year the Magna Carta was signed.) There are good teachers, but as they told us so many times, “It only takes one bad apple…”
Pity I didn’t have Cameron Diaz’s character from Bad Teacher, opening Friday at the Village 8. Diaz stars as a gold-digging pottymouth teacher who likes pot smoking, hard drinking and not doing her job. Rather, she focuses all her energy on wooing an overly-geeky, unrealistically wealthy substitute played by Justin Timberlake. Diaz is looking for a meal ticket so she can get out of the education game and focus on her real career, looking hot. The plot thickens when an overly keen colleague (Lucy Punch, killing it) also sets her sights on JT and the sarcastically awesome gym teacher (Jason Segel) pursues Diaz. Somewhere in there is a lesson to be learned, but it’s buried under f-bombs and wild-n-wet carwash fundraisers.
Bad Teacher isn’t as kick-ass as it sounds however. Rather than go for the bad taste jugular director Jake Kasdan (Walk Hard- Dewey Cox Story) eases up and doesn’t deliver as much ‘Bad’ as he should. Instead we get a one-note character in a patched-together script that lacks the punch of Bad Santa or the solid kid characters of School of Rock. Although there are moments of comedic brilliance it’s the writing that ultimately sinks this one. Bad Teacher deserves a “C” but we’ll give her a “B-“ because she looks so slippery when wet.
Speaking of road signs, Cars 2 rolls into town this week. Thanks to its toy line and merchandise, the first Cars has been Pixar’s biggest moneymaker to date so a sequel was no surprise. What is astounding is how much said sequel sucks.
The tenderly delivered moral lessons and the Americana-nostalgia of the first Cars are replaced by the glitz and glamour of a globe-trotting race circuit cut amongst an international espionage tale starring Mater the tow truck (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy.) They hang this film on the imbecile sidekick.
With predictable clichéd character arcs (how many times have we seen the “on-again-off-again Best Friend storyline?) and overly cheese-dick sentiment this one can easily win the title of “shittiest Pixar flick yet.” Which isn’t to say kids (young boys at least) aren’t gonna eat it up–there are few clever bits and decent James Bond-y action sequences. The 3D in Cars 2 is apparently not too bad but Whistler viewers will never know as we are exclusively 2D up here.
Pink Floyd fans might get a bit confused when Transformers: Dark of the Moon opens next Tuesday. It looks good but it’s 2 hours 37 minutes of movie without Megan Fox. Megan’s been replaced by Victoria’s Secret model Rosie Huntington Whiteley and if you don’t know who that is you can just Google it on your iPhone. You can also look up when the Magna Carta was signed, Bernoulli’s principle of fluid dynamics, how to say “Pineapples cannot talk” in French, the equation for Photosynthesis and all the other crap you were forced to learn in high school and then instantly forgot in real life.