Friday, July 14, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes review

By Nico Beland
Movie Review: **** out of 4
Andy Serkis is back as Caesar in War for the Planet of the Apes

            Motion capture wizard, Andy Serkis (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong (2005), Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes director, Matt Reeves (Felicity, Cloverfield, Let Me In) return in the third installment of the rebooted Planet of the Apes film series, War for the Planet of the Apes. This new series of Ape films have been a thrilling experience from beginning to end, 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes breathed new life into a dead franchise after the dreaded Tim Burton remake from 2001, and 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes expanded on the first film’s story and delivered a grittier and darker sequel that managed to surpass its predecessor.
            Now I can say with all seriousness that War for the Planet of the Apes is the Return of the King and Bourne Ultimatum of Ape movies. That’s right, it’s the best in the series and quite possibly the best Planet of the Apes movie since the original 1968 Charlton Heston classic.
            While the film has its moments of dazzling visuals and thrilling action, it is not the most action-packed installment or even a fun movie. War for the Planet of the Apes is pretty much the equivalent of an Ape-casted Academy Award® nominated drama type of movie that really cranks up the grim tone from the last movie, heavily character focused, and at times it can get pretty intense.
            The film follows genetically enhanced ape Caesar (Serkis) and his clan at war with a human military faction called the Alpha-Omega led by a ruthless Colonel (Woody Harrelson-Zombieland, The Hunger Games franchise, Now You See Me). Caesar offers the human peace if they leave his apes alone, but it turns out the former ape followers of the deceased, Koba have joined the Alpha-Omega after being disillusioned by Caesar’s leadership.
            After the apes suffered many losses at the hands of the humans, Caesar battles with his darker instinct and begins his next quest to avenge his kind. Caesar eventually comes face to face with the Colonel and the two of them are pitted against each other in a battle to determine the fate of their species and the future of the entire planet.
             The film also stars Steve Zahn (Happy, Texas, Stuart Little 1 and 2, Captain Fantastic) as Bad Ape, Karin Konoval (Supernatural, 2012, Tower Prep) as Maurice, Terry Notary (The Cabin in the Woods, The Hobbit trilogy, Kong: Skull Island) as Rocket, Ty Olsson (X2: X-Men United, 2012, Godzilla (2014)) as Red, Judy Greer (Archer, Jurassic World, Ant-Man) as Cornelia, Devyn Dalton (A Fairly Odd Christmas, Legion) as Cornelius, Sara Canning (Slap Shot 3: The Junior League, The Vampire Diaries, Remedy) as Lake, Michael Adamthwaite (X-Men: Evolution, Death Note, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex) as Luca, Aleks Paunovic (Arctic Air, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, iZombie) as Winter, Alessandro Juliani (X-Men: Evolution, Battlestar Galactica, Death Note) as Spear, and newcomer, Amiah Miller as Nova.
            Overall, War for the Planet of the Apes is a thrilling yet poignant final installment of a reboot trilogy that was probably a lot better than what it had the right to be. Seriously, I’m still shocked they were able to reboot something as iconic and nostalgic as Planet of the Apes and somehow make it work.
            Thanks to some groundbreaking motion capture effects, clever writing, strong characters, and a film crew that understood the source material just enough to make something different out of it without rehashing the same old stuff because people liked it before, these movies completely surpassed my expectations each and every time and with a few callbacks to the original film they made me remember how much I enjoyed the 1968 classic. The effects in the last two films were very impressive but the motion capture in this one is Oscar worthy, not just Serkis’ performance but the animation on Caesar and the apes are so good I almost forgot I was looking at computer animated apes, now that’s how you do CGI correctly.
            What I really appreciate about this movie is that despite having impressive visual effects and action scenes, they don’t overshadow the story and characters. The story is definitely darker than its predecessors and at times reflect real-life events such as World War II Nazi concentration camps and slavery and is more character focused than action-packed and honestly, I think that’s for the best.
            Don’t get me wrong the action sequences are spectacular but what really makes this movie shine are its characters and themes. Despite the conflict with humans, Caesar isn’t made out to be the bad guy but he doesn’t want anything to happen to the apes even if it involves battling humans to keep his clan safe.
            Maurice is a much more developed character in this film and even has a side-plot involving him adopting a young orphan human girl and starting an inseparable bond with her. He might actually be my favorite character in the new movies besides Caesar and Maurice doesn’t even talk much in these films.

            War for the Planet of the Apes definitely feels more realistic than any of the other Planet of the Apes movies and it manages to tackle themes of prejudice and war without making both sides human. It’s a great sci-fi movie but it’s an even better war drama and a satisfying conclusion to the 2011 Planet of the Apes franchise, if you’re a fan of the new series or the Planet of the Apes saga as a whole this is a “War” not to be missed.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming review

By Nico Beland
Movie Review: **** out of 4
Tom Holland as your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man in Spider-Man: Homecoming

            You read that description right people, Spider-Man 2 has been dethroned as the best movie based on the extremely popular Marvel Comics superhero, Spider-Man. That has officially been changed to Spider-Man: Homecoming, the second reboot of the character and the first Spider-Man film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe starring Tom Holland (In the Heart of the Sea) reprising the titular character from last year’s Captain America: Civil War.
            The film is a result of a collaboration between Sony’s Columbia Pictures which owns the film rights to the Spider-Man character and Disney, the current owner of Marvel. Like many people I was very excited but at the same time I was a little worried the film would have been studio-driven and come off as underwhelming *ahem* Amazing Spider-Man 2.
            Well, thanks to director, Jon Watts (Clown, Cop Car) and Holland blowing me away the previous year in Civil War not only does Spider-Man: Homecoming surpass my expectations but it is quite possibly the best Spider-Man movie we’ve ever had (That’s right, better than Spider-Man 2!). The film doesn’t rehash the plots of the 2002 Spider-Man movie with Tobey Maguire or the first reboot from 2012 with Andrew Garfield, The Amazing Spider-Man and gives us a different kind of Spider-Man movie that doesn’t rely on the earlier film tropes.
            This movie assumes you already know Spider-Man’s backstory and doesn’t go to the trouble of reminding you for the hundredth time and instead focuses on Spider-Man learning to become an Avenger and trying to make it through high school as Peter Parker. I wouldn’t say it’s as action packed as Sam Raimi’s original trilogy and the film does have a lot of down-time to establish Parker’s character but it gives Spider-Man a human touch and makes him a more three-dimensional character.
            The film follows nerdy high school student, Peter Parker (Holland) returning to his studies after being drafted into the Avengers by Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.-Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Tropic Thunder, Sherlock Holmes) to help with a dispute he had with Captain America. Peter is eager to become an Avenger but Tony tells him he is not ready yet and suggests being a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
            He tries to return to his normal life but is constantly distracted by thoughts of proving himself to be more than just a local vigilante. However, a new threat known as the Vulture (Michael Keaton-Beetlejuice, Batman, Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)) emerges, a black arms dealer under the name of Adrian Toomes who turned to a life of crime after being driven out of business as a scavenger for the New York attack by Tony Stark’s Department of Damage Control and is armed with a flying metal suit and Chitauri weaponry.
            Upon hearing about the Vulture Peter thinks stopping him could be a chance to prove himself as a hero. So, he dons the Spider-Man suit that was given to him by Stark and swings into action before everything he holds most important is threatened.
            The film also stars Marisa Tomei (Chaplin, The Lincoln Lawyer, The Big Short) as Peter’s Aunt May, Iron Man 1 and 2 director, Jon Favreau (Elf, Zathura, The Jungle Book (2016)) as Tony’s bodyguard, Happy Hogan, Zendaya (Shake It Up, Frenemies, K.C. Undercover) as Michelle “MJ” Jones, Donald Glover (Mystery Team, Magic Mike XXL, The Martian) as Aaron Davis, Jacob Batalon (North Woods) as Peter’s best friend, Ned, Laura Harrier (Big Morning Buzz Live, One Life to Live, 4th Man Out) as Peter’s love interest, Liz, and Tyne Daly (The Enforcer, The Aviator, Hello My Name is Doris) as the head of the Department of Damage Control, Anne Marie Hoag.
            Overall, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a zany, exciting, and most important of all fun second reboot of the character. The movie doesn’t rehash the bitten by a spider or Uncle Ben getting killed plot elements from earlier Spider-Man movies and gives the audience a new outing with the character and definitely a more self-contained movie than most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films.
            Sure, the movie does have references and callbacks to the rest of the franchise and Robert Downey Jr. is in it as Tony Stark but they’re very downplayed and the movie remembers to be a Spider-Man movie first and an extension to the Universe second. Though I did feel the timing of its release to be a little odd because we just got done with Andrew Garfield’s portrayal a few years ago, but this movie destroys it.
            The movie has a great balance between Spider-Man action and Peter Parker getting through school and honestly, I enjoyed the scenes with Peter in school just as much as the Spider-Man scenes because Holland’s performance as the character feels very natural and like a real kid. I also really liked the chemistry Tom Holland has with Robert Downey Jr. in the movie, we know how snobby and full of himself Tony Stark can be but here it shows that he cares about Peter and wants to see him succeed in being a hero and he’s almost like a fatherly figure to Peter.
            Of course, Michael Keaton kicks ass as the Vulture, the film shows why he turned to crime in the first place and his motivation behind it so he’s not just another throwaway villain. I’d be lying if I said he wasn’t the best Marvel Cinematic Universe villain since Loki.
            I still think Spider-Man 2 had better pacing for action but Spider-Man: Homecoming beats any previous Spider-Man movie out with its story. The film almost makes up for the sins of Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and gives Spidey fans and movie-goers the best Spider-Man movie in over ten years, Holland this was your chance to prove yourself…you did it.


Saturday, July 1, 2017

Despicable Me 3 review

By Nico Beland
Movie Review: *** out of 4
Gru and his Minions are back in Despicable Me 3

            Ex-supervillain, Gru (voiced by Steve Carell-The Office, Anchorman 1 and 2, Date Night) and his mischievous Minions are back in the third installment of Illumination Entertainment’s successful Despicable Me franchise. The first film released in 2010 sounded generic kiddie material at first glance but ended up being very clever and hilarious with its concept, until DreamWorks ripped it off with Megamind a few months later, but I digress.
            Thanks to the kids adoring the Minions the film made enough money to get a sequel, Despicable Me 2 in 2013 which was also very funny and like the first movie it also had plenty of heart and emotion in between the juvenile fart jokes and wild action scenes. However, I felt the second film focused a little too much on the Minions and almost played like a full-length ad for the Minions movie that came out in 2015.
            Now we have Despicable Me 3 which in my opinion is the weakest installment out of the three films. I didn’t think it was bad but the plot felt like it was on repeat several times and what was hilarious in the first two movies came off as predictable and awkward here.
            The film takes place after the events of Despicable Me 2 and Gru is now an agent for the Anti Villain League with his new wife, Lucy (voiced by Kristen Wiig-Bridesmaids, The Looney Tunes Show, Ghostbusters (2016) sent off to foil the plans of 80s themed supervillain and former child star, Balthazar Bratt (voiced by Trey Parker-South Park, Team America: World Police, The Book of Mormon) who portrayed a supervillain on a popular TV show before it was cancelled due to puberty. Gru manages to stop Balthazar from stealing a very expensive diamond but he gets away resulting in Gru and Lucy getting fired.
             They reluctantly tell the girls, Margo (voiced by Miranda Cosgrove-School of Rock, Drake & Josh, iCarly), Edith (voiced by Dana Gaier), and Agnes (voiced by Nev Scharrel) but assure them that they will find new jobs. The next morning Gru is approached by the butler of his long-lost twin brother, Dru (also voiced by Carell) and stunned by this realization Gru longs to meet him.
            So Gru and his family are taken to a country called Freedonia (Sounds like a reject name for a Storm Hawks Terra) where they finally meet Dru who turns out to be an insanely wealthy pig farmer with an eccentric personality and he literally looks exactly like Gru but with dreadlocks. It is revealed that Dru’s wealth actually came from their father being a legendary supervillain who constantly dismissed him in disgrace.
            Dru turns to his brother to teach him how to be a villain but Gru left that life behind me but is tempted after a joyride around Freedonia in their father’s old car. MEANWHILE AT THE LEGION OF DOOM, Balthazar plots to steal back the diamond to power a giant robot so he can destroy Hollywood as an act of revenge for cancelling his show…Oh, and the Minions are in prison.
            Overall, Despicable Me 3 is a serviceable sequel and something that will probably entertain your kids more than the parents. The animation is still colorful and visually appealing, the voice acting is still funny, and there’s enough cutesy Agnes and Minions to keep the little ones’ quiet.
            Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t do much new with its story and almost feels like a repeat of what happened in the earlier films. The basic plot is like the first one in reverse but it also recycles similar plot devices and situations from both movies.
            They rehashed the Margo and boys plot from the last movie and the first half of the climax is very similar to the one in the first film. Thankfully it’s not an insulting rehash unlike the Michael Bay Transformers movies but it is a little distracting.
            Not to mention the pacing isn’t great either mainly with the introduction of Dru, the chemistry between him and Gru is passable but it’s mostly played for laughs and could have used more heart and better development. I would have liked to see more of their backstories explored more and where their villainy motivations came from but when you really get down to it Dru is basically a screw-up, more enthusiastic version of Gru.
            But with that said the person who steals the show around here is Trey Parker as Balthazar Bratt which is the South Park creator’s first venture into family entertainment and he did not disappoint. Sure, he’s not nearly as edgy here but he puts a lot of effort into voicing the character and every time he’s on-screen I am laughing hard and it’s not just because he sounds like an evil version of Randy Marsh.
            Aside from a few laughs, talented voice cast, and Trey Parker, Despicable Me 3 doesn’t amount to much. The plot isn’t that original and a lot of character arks are thrown off to the side and forgotten about like Margo and the boy, Agnes’ quest for a unicorn, and the Minions quitting their job with Gru in hopes to return to villainy, there’s a lot happening here without much focus.

            Despicable Me 3 is sure to entertain your kids and it has some imagination and laughs but it lacks the heart of its predecessors. It’s harmless family entertainment that’ll hopefully give a fair amount of belly laughs but if you want a more engaging family film I’d suggest waiting for Pixar’s Coco.