PICK OF THE WEEK:
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (****1/2). At the start of the summer, I boldly predicted that Rise of the Planet of the Apes would be the biggest bomb. Maybe I was still reeling from Tim Burton's suckfest of a remake, but I couldn't imagine anyone wanting to see another Apes movie. Now, I can't imagine anyone not wanting to see it. Rise is the best surprise so far this year: a big, grandly executed humanist sci-fi actioner with some of the best visual effects I've ever seen. The digital effects company Weta, the same company behind LOTR and Avatar, has really outdone itself this time around. Every ape in the movie is CGI and all are amazingly rendered, none more so than the intelligent leader of the apes, Caesar, played in motion capture by Andy Serkis (the go-to guy for this stuff after playing Gollum and King Kong). Caesar is one of the best movie characters in recent memory, and every thought in his head is expressively conveyed on screen. The combo of Serkis' performance and Weta's effects work makes Rise a no-brainer to recommend. But apart from the technological breakthrough, the movie is a fleet-footed, fun look at the end of the world. This is a fantastic prequel, honoring the Apes movies that have come before and giving little shout-outs to some of the more infamous elements (statue of liberty, "damn dirty ape"), but you don't have to be familiar at all with any of the other movies to enjoy Rise. The best non-Potter movie of the year so far. I loved it. In Theaters Now.
Cowboys & Aliens (**1/2). The title alone for this one should tell you whether you want to see it or not. I've stood firmly in the "want to see" category since Day One, so it is with a bit of disappointment that I report the final product is just okay. The first half-hour starts promisingly enough, introducing the characters and establishing a serious Western tone. Even when the aliens first attack, director Jon Favreau stages the scene with just the right blend of wonder and menace. But from there, the movie slogs along, going through the motions as a ragtag group led by Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford (ever the grumpy gramp) search for their kidnapped loved ones. It never really picks up steam when it should. The alien design is unpleasant, and the aliens themselves lack a distinct personality and come across as rather one-note. The big action finish is underwhelming and repetitive. Cowboys & Aliens certainly has a promising concept, but the filmmakers never find a way to mesh the two genres in a satisfying way. In Theaters Now.
The Change-Up (**1/2). In all of their interviews promoting the movie, stars Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds have openly admitted and apologized for bringing another body-switcheroo comedy into the world. Their excuse? Nobody's ever done a hard R-rated version. True, and The Change-Up certainly fulfills that bill, with f-bombs, boobs (with CGI nipples - is nothing holy anymore?), and reckless child endangerment. Some of it works, most of it comes across as desperate and crude just for crude's sake. What makes it all watchable, however, is Bateman, who, in a nice departure from his usual strait-laced everyman, gets to let loose as the immature, devil-may-care playboy originally played by Reynolds. Bateman's comedic timing and verbal dexterity make this a decent rental, even if, in a summer full of R-rated comedies, The Change-Up is the weakest of the bunch. In Theaters Now.
Hobo with a Shotgun (***). Quentin Tarentino and Robert Rodriguez made Grindhouse-style films cool again, or tried to anyway, with their double bill of Planet Terror and Death Proof back in '07. Hobo with a Shotgun continues to ride that trend, even if it is a year or two late. The movie is pure trash: amateurish, sleazy, and uber-violent. It leaves the viewer feeling kind of dirty, but that seems to be the intent. The script has a couple of witty, outrageously profane one-liners, and it certainly never takes itself too seriously. To call it a guilty pleasure is kind of an understatement. But the real pleasure here is the Hobo himself, Rutger Hauer, who despite the campy ridiculousness of everything around him, still gives an honest and committed performance. Mildly recommended for those with a strong stomach for this kind of stuff. On Blu-Ray and DVD.