DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014)
reviewed by Elvin Jones
War has begun!
-Caesar
Picture
War was declared on the box office by Caesar, the highly intelligent ape from Rise of the Planet of the Apes, leading his family and fellow apes back into action in the sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, facing off this time against a band of humans, trying to survive in a world ravaged by a virus that has wiped out most of the human population.

KEYWORDS
Amazing, emotional, family, surviving

THE GOOD
The apes – the ape effects have come a long way since Rise.
Very realistic brought out even more with 3D.
Human cast – a cast that overall had newcomers and those that might not be household names, with the exception of Gary Oldman. Didn’t distract from the apes story.
Caesar – worthy of his namesake.  As great a father as he is a leader.
Koba – for him to be a villain, and an ape I felt was done very well.
Communication – although the apes can speak somewhat, they mainly communicate via sign language, but the spoken words are used at just the right time to convey extra meaning.
The battles – when apes go hard, they really go hard


THE BAD
Gary Oldman’s screentime – I admit I really struggled to find something wrong with this movie. I will say if you are going to have someone of Oldman’s talent in a great movie, he could have been involved in it a bit more for my tastes

WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT
Set ten years after Rise, we see the result of the worldwide Simian flu that eradicated most of the human population.  Caesar, who led the newly freed apes into the forest at the end of Rise, now leads a thriving community of apes, living in complete peace unaware of what is going on in the outside world, believing that humans have finally died out.  A chance encounter with a group of survivors led by Malcom (Jason Clarke) forces Caesar to make the massive ape presence known to a community of survivors in San Francisco, led by Dreyfus (Oldman).  An uneasy truce between the groups leads to tension with the apes as well as the humans and despite Caesar wanting peace and no war, it’s only a matter of time before war begins.

WHAT THE MOVIE IS REALLY ABOUT
Family, and what you would do or sacrifice for their survival.  And not just talking about humans.  At this point Caesar is now a father, with an older son and a newborn baby and wife to protect, along with the well being of his fellow apes.  On the other hand you have Malcolm who has a family of his own (Keri Russell as his “wife” and a teenage son too).  While this group of humans was immune to the virus and manages to survive they are running out of time and resources and desperately needs power that can be provided by a dam within the apes territory.  As much as Caesar wants to keep his family safe, so does Malcolm and its on that level where they are ultimately able to bond.

I think it also speaks a lot about what goes on in the world.  You have the ape nation and the human nation, so to speak.  Caesar has kept his group separate but when the door is opened to relations, while hesitant at first, he thinks the two groups can coexist.  On the flip side you have Dreyfus as the human leader who believes we can’t work with apes and that humans must take what they need by any means necessary, even if it means death to all the apes.  Each side has a counter voice, with Koba the ape preaching war and loyalty to apes to Caesar, while Malcolm tries to be the voice of reason to Dreyfus.  How many conflicts in the history of our world have been started because one group wanted something that another had and rather than work towards a mutual agreement, felt the only course of action was war to take it.

CONCLUSION
Very little I could find wrong with it.  The movie is about the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and while humans are a part of it, I felt like the focus was mostly on the apes as it should have been.  The apes and their storylines were relatable.  Things that we as humans experience.  Family, friendships, disagreements, teenagers rebelling, but seen through the eyes of apes.  Perfect cast that didn’t overshadow the apes.  Excellent visuals, (highly recommend seeing it in 3D), good pace and amount of action.  Not too long or too short.  It reminds you of any good story where you watch a leader really become something more than that.  And yes there is almost certainly a sequel in the works.  I thought that Rise was a decent movie and definitely a step up from the Mark Walberg Planet of the Apes, but Dawn has really taken the franchise to a whole new level.  

Picture


3.5 out of 4

 
 
THEY CAME TOGETHER (2014)
reviewed by Jessica Elliott
"You like fiction books? I've never met anyone else who likes fiction!
That is too funny!"
- Molly to Joel
Picture
Ah, yes. That, right there, is what we call soul mate quality, friends. They Came Together crams every romantic comedy cliché you can think of, or remember, in parodied fashion. Think: Scary Movie series but for romantic comedies. With a headlining duo like Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler (cue: swoon), and an assload of your favorite comedian cameos, They Came Together is poised to deliver 83 minutes of solid laughter.

KEYWORDS
Sporadically clever, delightful, funny, tired gags, underused actors

THE GOOD
Fun concept
Paul Rudd + Amy Poehler pairing
Long list of comedy cameos,

THE BAD
Lack of innovation
Unnecessary scenes
Forced humor
Lackluster


WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT
Molly (Poehler) plays the klutz, fun-loving girl who befriends Joel, the corporate professional, albeit vulnerable, leading man (Rudd) who is, as the movie puts it, “just jewish enough.” The movie follows the predictable rom-com storyline: meet each other, hate each other, but misjudged each other so now they like each other only to inevitably break-up and date other people, but realize they really do love each other, aaaaand they’re back together again. A couple of montages are found in the mix, too. They Come Together would not meet the rom-com criteria without sage advice from their basketball playing friends, supportive best friend and disapproving older sister, kooky co-worker (yay Rafi!) and “aw shucks” younger brother. It is the perfect round up of the rom-com supporting cast to fill out the romantic comedy genre requirement.

WHAT THE MOVIE IS REALLY ABOUT
They Came Together parodies the romantic comedy genre with Poehler and Rudd leading the charge and directed by David Wain (Wet Hot American Summer and Role Models). The movie begins with Molly and Joel at dinner with their friends played by Bill Hader and Ellie Kemper (grossly underused and extremely funny) who ask how they met. From there, the entire movie is a flashback, cutting back to the dinner table for a few laughs and reinforcement of the parody for the viewer. The movie begins like a Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan movie, introducing each character in a day of their life. Molly owns a cute candy shop named Upper Sweet Side whose existence is threatened by the evil corporation, Candy Systems & Research. This, of course, is where Joel is employed. They meet at a Halloween party thrown by mutual friends. Instead of hitting it off, like their friends hoped, they despise each other especially after Molly finds out where Joel works. Clichéd phrases are said, Molly throws water in Joel’s face in an effort to show her disgust, and they pretty much hate each other. This is also where we are forced to watch a useless scene with Christopher Meloni and a bathroom incident. Molly and Joel meet again, this time at a bookstore where their interest in one other begins to grow over a common love of fiction books.

The rest of the movie continues on as you would expect – the looming threat of their relationship pulled apart because of their jobs, Joel’s ex-girlfriend testing their love (played by Cobie Smulders), the inevitable jealously of one moving on with their life before the other, etc. This movie begins strong, with clever moments producing genuine laughter, but it very quickly fell flat. Yes, I understand this is a parody movie. Yes, I know that means its purpose is to poke fun. I love me a good romantic comedy – and to have it parodied? That’s moth to a flame-like love! However, in an age where parody movies are quite normal (which Scary Movie number are we on, now?), this one was no different and I so wanted it to be. I was excited to see this cast, which can only be described as Poehler and Rudd’s personal contacts, but I was hoping for a spin on the tired parody approach, or at least done in a smarter way. I firmly believe if this film had been made a good five years ago or so, I would have liked it a lot more. Perhaps the movie, as it is now, would have felt fresh and new. At this point, we are familiar with the Poehler and Rudd “-isms” and although good for a chuckle here and there, it felt like the go-to for both of them. It seemed like the movie rested on its cast and a few solid jokes to carry it through to the end. Instead, coupled with questionable scenes such as Joel meeting Molly’s parents for the first time, the bizarre and endless bar scene with Joel, and the last 5 – 10 minutes, the 83 minutes of running time felt like an eternity. It felt like a sketch or joke gone way too long and you just want it to stop.

CONCLUSION
Although I genuinely enjoyed only a third of the film, I did feel like I was reunited with old friends. Each cameo made me laugh with excitement (John Stamos?!) and there are a few scenes peppered within the movie that do work. I just wish they had been able to sustain that momentum for the duration rather than overkilling each joke in the process. They Came Together had the potential to be much smarter in achieving the parody of the rom-com genre but just felt lazy.

Picture


2 out of 4

 
 
VENUS IN FUR (2014)
reviewed by Audy Elliott
“I’ve been your slave since you entered the room”
- Thomas to Vanda 
Picture
As soon as this movie started it compelled me like I was in on a dirty little secret and no one else knew except me, the director and actors. It flirted with my mind with its subtextual dialog and effortless chemistry while shifting between the verbal realities and unspoken nuances with its witty dialog. Polanski, who I have always respected and admired as a filmmaker (As a person um.. meh), picks up where he left off from 2010’s Carnage. Again Polanski looks towards the stage medium to find inspiration. Just like the two leads who flirt with one another through wordplay, Polanski is flirting with my film intellect daring me to stop watching, knowing that once he has you, you will not want to be let go.

KEYWORDS
Sexually abstract, naturalistic, sub textual, arousing, mysterious, substantial 

THE GOOD
Filmed with a seductive ease
Kooky French humor
Superb writing and screenplay adaptation
Ambiguity nature of the film
Expression of the subconscious in the acting
Resplendent direction

THE BAD
Vanda is miscast
Unconvincing denouement
Tangential dialog at certain times 

WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT
Official selection in this year’s Cannes Film Festival – Starring Mathieu Amalric (Quantum of Solace) as Thomas and Emmanuelle Seigner (Le Vie en Rose, Diving Bell and the Butterfly) as Vanda in this film based on the Tony Award winning play by David Ives. This is the latest film by controversial, but brilliant filmmaker Roman Polanski (Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown, The Pianist). Alone in a Paris theater after a long day of unsuccessfully auditioning actresses for his new play, writer-director Thomas complains that no actress he’s seen has what it takes to play the lead role – a woman who enters into an agreement with her male counterpart to dominate him as her sex slave (meta alert). As Thomas is about to leave the theater for the night an actress bursts in the last minute exuding an erotic determination to change his mind and land the role.

WHAT THE MOVIE IS REALLY ABOUT
As previously mentioned, this movie is a film adaptation of David Ive’s Broadway play, which he in turn, borrowed from the Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s novella ‘Venus in Furs’. The novel, like the film and play, focuses on themes of natural female dominance and sadomasochism borrowed from Sacher-Masoch’s own life. Ive’s play focuses on the metaphysical aspect of the book, where Thomas is “auditioning” Vanda for the role, but is substituting his own psychological motifs to mask his true suppressive sexual inhibitions. As with the play, Polanski explores and showcases each character naturally. Both Thomas and Vanda start off the play as literary, archetypical paradoxes – He being the director representing power and need; she being the actress representing submissiveness and want. However, as the story progresses so do our happy little French characters as they exhibit each a “Je ne sais quoi-ness” intangibility that permeates in the smoke filled air of every scene.

Polanski subtlety chose to present this movie in a fantasy/supernatural vantage point when representing Vanda and how she came crashing in Thomas’ audition and subsequently his psyche. Vanda is played by Polanski’s real life wife Emmanuelle Seigner. Seigner, was a fine choice, but there was a screaming hint of nepotism like Tim Burton’s collaborations with Helena Bonham Carter. Seigner’s portrayal is an older, milfy looking French woman that could be confused as a stand in to Sex in the City’s Samantha without the unabashed sexual auto pilot caricature deliriums. Polanski sets up the characterization, when Thomas, briefly on the phone to a colleague says, that he is “tired of all the young girls that are auditioning.” Like BOOM from dynamite enters Vanda. Seigner displays an imposing character, with a strong square jaw and round hard defined cheekbones; she possesses a vulnerable, kooky Amazonian quality to the character that marries well with the S&M subtext. She is a towering drink of water that cannot be quenched with one gulp. On the other hand her acting did not match what I felt Vanda’s character required to make Thomas completely and madly cater to her every whim unchallenged.  Amalric is believable as a man possessed and ready to be dominated with a ribbon and bow wrapped around his body. No matter how convincing Polanski and Amalric reacted towards Seigner, there is a broaden masculinity that overmatches her casual European sexuality that I found hard to believe. Even with the tone of the movie being in lust and compelled by her, I felt a slight tolerance towards her. I found her very fascinating however, in trying to determine exactly who the character really was or represented. Was she the goddess Venus, sent down to give poor ol’ Thomas a good ass kicking about sexism and pathological transsexual shame? Was Vanda just a figment of Thomas’ imagination? Was Vanda a persona of Thomas’ dark, twisted, voluptuous ego? Polanski thrived in hiding the nature and feeling of this movie in the gray areas with the thematic content of Venus in Fur. Regardless, Seigner was unconvincing, and her handling of her character’s metamorphosis towards the end felt a little unreliable. On the other hand, Amalric was more at ease and believable. Because of the strength of the script and screenplay, this movie never felt like it was in a theater or an actual stage thereby allowing Amalric to do as he pleases towards Vanda without any physical and emotional constraints. Vanda in turn reacts with a temporal, controlled, amusement handling Thomas masterfully as if she is in on some secret the rest of us do not yet know.

KEY SCENE
In this scene, the movie is finally standing on its head, as Thomas is now allowing to give himself completely to Vanda. Key acting, physical details of the role reversal of power is now full on display. Notice how Vanda (now in charge) is in the background facing us with her chin held up high and eyes peering down at Thomas giving the impression that she is on a higher more dominant plain than Thomas, who is now recessive with his back towards us lowered in the foreground. Also you will see Amalric start to drown in passion that he will be dominated and tortured, unbeknownst to us at the beginning of the movie, as he has always wanted.

CONCLUSION
This movie is a great way for one to introduce his or herself to Polanski’s work. Even though this is not his strongest movie ever (that esteem claim is for the impeccable Chinatown), it marks that Polanski hasn’t lost a directorial step. For the second movie in a row, he has decided to make a quality low budget, well crafted foreign film that are based off of stage plays, showcasing a theatrical intense treatment of an isolated study human nature i.e.: Carnage with all 4 actors in single shot apartment, and now Venus in Fur in a single shot setting of a two people in a theater. Regardless of the ambiguity, the obscurity works for this movie to where the open ended-ness was successful and thought provoking. You may walk out of the movie with more questions than answers, but Polanski as we have seen in the past can adapt and make one damn good movie after another therefore continuing to cement his legacy as a wonderful filmmaker albeit a misunderstood one. 
Picture


3 out of 4