The month of August featured my triumphant return to movie-going form: I saw twice as many movies as I saw in the lost month of July, and despite the fact that the end of the summer is generally a cinematic dumping ground, the overall quality was not half bad... though, not exactly great, either, as there is nary a top-ten worthy film in the bunch. Still some stuff worth your time, though, so let’s take a look at the August crop....
RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES -- While I am not exactly what you’d call an APES geek, I do like the original films and I can honestly say that I can’t imagine a better APES prequel than what we got this summer. The solid plot involves a group of scientists who may or may not have uncovered the cure for Alzheimer’s. But after James Franco tests the vaccine on baby ape Caesar, he finds that the effect is far more significant. Performances are fine as far as the humans are concerned, but the real star of this film is Caesar, portrayed by the undisputed king of motion-capture technology, Andy Serkis (aka Gollum and King Kong). I’m sure the world isn’t ready to honor such work with, say, an Oscar nod... but honestly, Serkis’ performance is more than deserving of such accolades. In fact, it’s probably one of the finest performances of any kind I’ve seen all year, single-handedly carrying the film to unthinkable emotional heights. A fun film that (unlike the horrific Tim Burton remake) also manages to recapture the socio-political commentary of the original. Some winks and homages to the original film, too, with mixed results: Caesar playing with a toy Statue of Liberty is funny, though I suppose I could’ve done without some of the more blatant and cringe-worthy dialogue references (did we really need BOTH the “damn dirty ape” and “maaaaadhouse” lines?). One last observation: After portraying the greasy Draco Malfoy in the POTTER series, and now the sniveling villain in APES, is Tom Felton setting himself up to be this generation’s Billy Zabka? I think so!
THE CHANGE-UP -- In my July movie recap, I reviewed HORRIBLE BOSSES and warned Jason Bateman that the expiration date on his signature role as the “straight-laced family man” was rapidly approaching... but after seeing this movie, I now see that his judgment day is even closer than expected. Now, we all know that the personality-switch formula has been done time and time again, ranging from FREAKY FRIDAY to LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON to FREAKY FRIDAY again. The results have been mixed, at best, as it is a slippery slope of a plot device -- and this new installment to the sub-genre, with straight-laced family man Bateman switching roles with horn-dog bachelor Ryan Reynolds, may be the worst of the lot. It’s just not very funny, and I’m pretty sure Bateman and Reynolds never actually studied each other’s mannerisms and vocal inflections because most of the time, you can barely tell that they’re supposed to be portraying the other’s character. This is a step backward for Reynolds, who has proven with such films as BURIED that he is capable of far better things. On a slightly more positive note, it IS pretty raunchy and features some gratuitous nudity from both Leslie Mann and Olivia Wilde. Granted, there is some question as to whether or not the nudity is 100% legit... but either way, it’s nice.
THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE -- This is one of those movies that lives and dies by the power of its lead performance -- or in this case, two lead performances by the same actor. Dominic Cooper is outstanding as both Saddam Hussein’s crazy son and his unwillingly-appointed security double, deftly handling both very different personalities. Latif is mild-mannered, loves his family, doesn’t want any trouble and is at first overwhelmed by the world he has been dragged into; Uday Hussein, of course, is a lunatic, rapist, murderer, drunk on power and wealth and opulence. Naturally, f’d up hijinks ensue. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie doesn’t quite live up to the lead performance(s). While I’m sure Uday’s crazy antics may not be too far removed from reality, he is portrayed in such an over-the-top and cartoonish way that he reminded me more of Saddam’s character on SOUTH PARK -- I half-expected him to be like, “Heyyy, relax guy!” In the end, this sort of detracts from the underlying seriousness of the story (since, y’know, Uday really DID kill people on whims and snatch young girls off the street to rape them and etc.) and essentially turns it into IRAQI SCARFACE, as written by ADAPTATION’s Donald Kaufman. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. (Also always nice to see the luminous Ludivine Sagnier on the big screen, this time as Uday’s favorite sex toy who ends up falling for Latif. Awkward!)
CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE -- This movie isn’t really that crazy, certainly isn’t stupid, and while I wouldn’t say that I loved it, I also can’t remember the last time I saw a more flat-out likeable romantic comedy. Everything about it, and everyone in it, is so damn likeable. Steve Carell is likeable as Cal, a sad sack family man who finds himself alone and back on the market after his marriage falls apart. Julianne Moore is likeable as Emily, Cal’s estranged wife (who, I might add, cheated on him with David, played by Kevin Bacon, who is also likeable even though he’s a homewrecker). Ryan Gosling is likeable as a young lothario who takes Cal under his wing to to build his confidence and teach him to get chicks. Emma Stone is likeable as a frazzled young career woman, and her love story with Gosling, in which they both thaw each other’s stony hearts, is particularly likeable (and makes for one of the most likeable “falling in love” montages in recent memory). Marisa Tomei is odd but likeable as Cal’s first pickup attempt, and their shenanigans are equally likeable. Jessica Riley is likeable as the babysitter of Cal & Emily’s kids, who also happens to have a schoolgirl crush on Cal. The kid who plays Cal & Emily’s son, Robbie, is likeable -- he has a huge crush on the babysitter and continually makes grand public gestures to express this love. There’s even a big, likeable plot twist towards the end that actually had me fooled. It’s no LOVE ACTUALLY as far as these kinds of romantic comedies with multiple interweaving storylines are concerned, but simply put, there is nothing in this movie not to like.
THE FUTURE -- Miranda July already proved that she is weird with ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW, a film that gave us the greatest emoticon in the history of the Internet -- ))< >(( -- which of course stands for “back and forth forever.” Her long-awaited follow-up pretty much confirms that she is, in fact, weird. It’s about a couple, Sophie and Jason (July and Hamish Linklater), who are stuck in a rut. They sit on the couch with their Macbooks and have all sorts of preciously quirky mannerisms and habits and they’re horrible hipsters and I kind of hate them (but I digress). They’re not yet too old but no longer young, and as a means of feeling responsible for something, they decide to adopt a stray cat who, they think, only has a short time to live. But when they are informed that the cat could potentially hold on for much longer, thus turning this lark into more of a commitment than they imagined, it causes them to reassess their stations in life. Sophie has an affair. Jason befriends an old man. Time & space are manipulated. The moon speaks words of wisdom. And the proceedings are narrated by the adopted cat, Paw-Paw, who can’t wait to be taken home by her new people. The whole thing actually manages to be thought-provoking and even fascinating once you get past the obscene quirkiness... which, I guess, sums up Miranda July in a nutshell.
30 MINUTES OR LESS -- I’m one of the few people who didn’t love director Ruben Fleischer’s last effort, ZOMBIELAND, but I rather enjoyed this dark stoner heist comedy about two slackers who kidnap a pizza delivery boy, strap a bomb to his chest and force him to rob a bank for them as part of a master plan to achieve their dream of opening a tanning salon/prostitution ring. It’s incredibly lewd and refreshingly un-PC, with fast-paced action, snappy dialogue and a cast that is perfectly suited to those criteria. Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari both have a great frenetic energy to them, and as an on-screen duo, their combined talents are pretty much irresistible. Likewise, Danny McBride, with his hilarious misguided bravado, and dim-witted Nick Swardson make excellent wannabe criminal masterminds. Not a classic comedy by any stretch of the imagination, but fun in the moment and worth checking out if you like any or all of the actors involved. (Also, be sure to stick around for one of the better post-credits scenes I’ve seen in a while.)
FRIGHT NIGHT -- I have to admit that I barely remember the original ‘80s classic (I was more of a slasher film fan back in those days), so I can’t really compare the two -- but I very much enjoyed this remake on its own accord. The story involves a guy (Anton Yelchin, who played Chekov in J.J. Abrams’ STAR TREK) who comes to suspect that his next-door neighbor (Colin Farrell) is a vampire who has been feasting on local townsfolk, and takes it upon himself to uncover the truth. The film is smart, suspenseful, funny and contains some great stylized horror (the 3D is unnecessary, but also not terribly distracting if it’s your only option). Performances are fine across the board, particularly David Tennant as a flamboyant Vegas performer who may or may not hold the key to survival. I’m also quickly becoming a fan of the lovely Imogen Poots following her work in last year’s SOLITARY MAN and now this. But it’s Farrell, as Jerry the vampire, who really knocks it out of the park and makes this thing work, clearly relishing the role and playing it with a sort of creepy machismo and sexual hunger that has been sorely missing from recent vampire films (you know the ones I’m talking about). He makes an awesomely convincing old-school vampire and if he causes at least a few Twi-hards to come to their senses and switch their allegiances away from their sparkly heartthrob, then this fun flick will have REALLY been worthwhile.
Stay tuned for part 2 of my August recap, coming up whenever I get around to finishing it....