Sunday, July 20, 2014

"Planes: Fire & Rescue" Review

As a film dedicated to firefighters and first responders, Disney's latest animated adventure has good intentions. Its heart is in the right place, but as a family feature Planes: Fire & Rescue lacks the imagination of recent efforts like The Lego Movie and How to Train Your Dragon 2.

If you saw last summer's Planes (a spin-off from Disney/Pixar's Cars) this new chapter picks up with many of your favorite characters returning. Of course Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook) is the star of the show.

We find Dusty pushing himself to the brink of disaster in the middle of a race. While he assumes he's done well, he doesn't realize the strain he's putting on his gearbox. If that piece of machinery was to fail in another race, Dusty could meet an untimely demise. As a result, he decides to leave his racing days behind him and become a firefighter. Dusty joins forces with Blade Ranger (Ed Harris) and his team of first responders, a.k.a. The Smokejumpers, to combat wildfires near Piston Peak.

Kids will love the goofy characters and the action-packed set pieces. There's even a handful of tongue-in-cheek jokes to keep the parents engaged for a little while, but that isn't enough to escape the generic plot design.

With the plethora of other, better, kid-friendly options out there, we probably didn't need a so-so sequel to a so-so spin-off to the least of the Pixar franchises.

Besides, when Dane Cook is your lead voice actor (let alone your lead actor in anything), you ought to know something is suspect.

If you want to take your kids out to a fun movie, make it How to Train Your Dragon 2. If you'd rather save a few bucks, rent/buy The Lego Movie or, heck, Frozen instead.


Monday, July 14, 2014

"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" Review


Dawn is as good an action sequel as you're likely to see in this day and age. It joins the ranks of The Dark Knight and The Empire Strikes Back as blockbuster part-twos that surpass their predecessors in almost every way.

It picks up nearly 10 years after the events of 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Mankind has been crippled by the Simian flu. Cities have been reduced to rubble and reclaimed by the flora & fauna. The few humans lucky enough to be genetically immune to the disease exist in small colonies around the globe. Our focus remains on what's left in San Francisco - ground zero for the flu outbreak. The last of the city's scientists, engineers, and doctors attempt to establish communication with the outside world as their power supply dwindles. A small contingency of San Francisco survivors (led by Jason Clarke & Keri Russell) makes contact with a group of apes led by Caesar (Andy Serkis) while looking for a dam that could re-juice the city's power.

Most of the apes have been conditioned to fear man after the events of Rise. But things take an interesting turn when the primates get ahold of a human weapons cache, and a power struggle ensues in the simian ranks. 

They quickly become some of the NRA's hairiest members.

The visual effects work from Weta Digital is astounding, as both the environments and the apes that inhabit them appear gloriously lifelike.  I'd swear Maurice was an actual trained orangutan. 

You can witness all the scars and emotions of these animals in graphic detail. The motion capture artists, led by the incomparable Serkis, do well to get the audience invested in their primate characters by showcasing very human emotions as we are placed alongside them in their desolate world. 

The human characters aren't quite as interesting. Performances from Clarke and Russell feel mostly hollow. Not even Gary Oldman can muster enough audience empathy to make us care about Dreyfus, the head of the San Francisco colony. 

With the seeds of war between the humans and apes planted, you can bet we're in for one helluva part three. 


Sunday, July 6, 2014

"Tammy" Review


In Tammy Melissa McCarthy is as silly as ever and proves that she can indeed carry a full-length picture. However this vanity project from her and co-star/co-writer/director & real-life husband Ben Falcone offers little more than a handful of laughs.

Tammy features a supporting cast of some of the best comic actors in the business, but none of them are given enough to work with. Susan Sarandon stars as Tammy's grandmother, the Louise to her Thelma. Allison Janney & Dan Akroyd play Tammy's parents. Nat Faxon plays Tammy's husband, and Toni Collette gets in a line or two as the homewrecker from down the street. Kathy Bates, Sandra Oh, Gary Cole, and Mark Duplass round out the supporting cast.
There are countless other road-trip comedies that offer better characters and more gut-busting hilarity. If you're a fan of McCarthy's shtick, you'll find enough to enjoy here, but all others need not apply. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

"Deliver Us From Evil" Review

The good outweighs both the bad and the ugly in Deliver Us From Evil, the new supernatural crime thriller from director Scott Derrickson (Sinister) and producer Jerry Bruckheimer (Pirates of the Caribbean).

After investigating a series of bizarre crimes, NYPD sergeant Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana) discovers a greater game afoot involving soldiers from the Iraq War, a painting company, and some creepy Latin symbology, the origin of which remains largely unexplained.

What sets this apart from most exorcism movies is the addition of the buddy-cop dynamic. Sarchie's partner on the force, Butler (Joel McHale), gets in a few decent one-liners which, as another reviewer put it, "feel as though they could've been ripped straight from a Community spoof of cop movies."

Whether that's good or bad depends on how you like your police dramas. For me McHale's part is a little too corny, but it does inject a little lightheartedness to the otherwise dour proceedings.

When Butler's not around, Sarchie pairs up with Father Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez), a Jesuit priest who specializes in the study of demonology. Together, they piece together the supernatural puzzle laid out before them.

It would be a well-written story if Derrickson and scribing partner Paul Harris Boardman had exorcised a few genre clichés along the way. I remain a Derrickson fan for his assured grasp on spooky atmospherics, but he doesn't approach the horror here with the same slow-burn suspense that made Sinister such a guilty pleasure. Deliver Us From Evil is good for maybe one or two jump scares. Otherwise, it just kinda feels like a poor man's version of David Fincher's Se7en.

On the whole the actors all provide serviceable performances, and the film itself is never actually boring despite a slew of clichés that ruin most of the scares. If you're in the mood for something dark and intense, you could do far worse than Deliver Us From Evil, but you could do much better too.