Tag Archives: James Franco

Best. Trilogy. Ever?

23 Jul

apesposter

Synopsis: “After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind.” (Rated PG-13; 2 hours, 20 minutes)
The Planet of the Apes trilogy that just concluded was one of the absolute BEST trilogies I’ve EVER seen…and in case it’s not evident, I’ve seen quite a few movies.
Beginning, middle and end, it was just so damn powerful. Yes, for anyone who assumes a big budget movie about simians has to be stupid, don’t judge it by its poster, nor the cheesy fun Charlton Heston films, nor the really mediocre remake by Tim Burton (who I generally love).
No, this trilogy by Matt Reeves is fantastic. The heartbreaking first one Rise of the Planet of the Apes with a tragically wonderful performance by John lithgow (whom I get to meet in a few months thanks to Adi!!!), the great second one Dawn of the Planet of the Apes which shows a hell of an internal conflict among the apes, and now the final chapter War for the Planet of the Apes, which has Woody Harrelson doing a hell of a Martin Sheen circa Apocalypse Now impression.
Throughout the trilogy, the perennially Oscar-snubbed Andy Serkis is PERFECTION as the Caesar. The visuals are flawless, the drama is taut, and other than Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings, I honestly can’t think of another trilogy that goes so wonderfully together. (Sorry, I love all of Back to the Future but the third is a huge loss in quality, the drop-off between the first two Godfather movies and the third is astounding, and many others including Harry Potter and James Bond have more than three great movies but they aren’t actually 3-story arcs, they simply have good and weaker chapters.)
Most people I know get annoyed when sequels are made to good movies, and I get that; they don’t want to see something great degrade in quality, so leave well enough alone. And I get that mentality, I do, I just happen to be a movie-LOVER and not a movie-SNOB (as evidenced by this blog), so I’m ALWAYS excited by the prospect of sequels (if I like the original), continuing stories and characters that I have loved and am excited to see continue. Sure, more often than not it disappoints (Zoolander 2, Independence Day: Resurgence, and countless other examples) but sometimes it exceeds expectations (each subsequent Captain America movie, Terminator 2) and sometimes it’s just bonkers and insanely different from the first one (Gremlins 2 was basically a Looney Tunes cartoon!), but I’m Boaz, and I proudly enjoy seeing what they do with it, and in most examples I enjoy the experience of seeing it play out. A disappointing sequel does not detract from my opinion of a great original. But this Apes trilogy was a different animal. It’s not just an excuse for a sequel, it was designed to have a start, middle and end. Not one part of any of it felt like an excuse to find more material to work with. And man oh man did it fire on all cylinders.
Anyway, see them. In order. Preferably on a big screen with good sound.
Oh, and the way this latest one started with a recap was so simple in design that it amazed me it’s never been done before. Sometimes it’s the little things that go unnoticed…

It was much better than any previous Planet of the Apes incarnation, and just as good as the previous two in the trilogy, which is a high bar.

Quality Rating: A+ (What did you expect from a post about putting it up there with Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings as the best trilogy I’ve ever seen?)

Boaz Rating: A+ (I was gripped from the first to the last minute, it had me laughing the few rare times of humor, and crying at the somber moments.)

Spring Breakers (“My Rant About Art-House Cinema”)

31 Mar

Image

Synopsis: “Four college girls who land in jail after robbing a restaurant in order to fund their spring break vacation find themselves bailed out by a drug and arms dealer who wants them to do some dirty work.” (Rated R; 1 hour, 34 minutes)

To write this review I need to reiterate a very important point. I’m not a film snob writing this blog, I’m a true movie-lover. That means I’ll appreciate my really good vegetables like Amour, and eat up every last bite of amazing main courses like Zero Dark Thirty, but I’ll also have a great time munching on my popcorn like Jack The Giant Slayer, and get myself a few cavities when I snack on my M&M’s like Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. Yes, I enjoy gobbling up my movies by the handfuls. But where does that leave me with experimental, art-house cinema? You know, those movies that you hear about which get “great reviews”  and that you’re supposed to walk out of discussing how it was brilliant – but instead most people actually wish they’d stayed home to watch reruns of The O.C. We’ve all been there. I spend so much time in my blog defending movies that I think are being treated too HARSHLY by critics, but what also happens is that movies come along – usually in independent cinema – and the exact opposite happens.

I went into Spring Breakers wanting to like it. It was written and directed by the writer of Kids, a movie that made waves back in 1995 for portraying the infrequently depicted dark-side of teenagers, which involved drugs, sex and even a positive HIV test for Chloë Sevigny years before she became a sister-wife on Big Love. I haven’t seen that movie in years, but I don’t really remember it being a great movie, just something that was new and therefore worth seeing and talking about. Now comes a new movie from the same writer (Harmony Korine), and the New York Times gives it a 100% on Metacritic, describing it as, “the pursuit of happiness taken to nihilistic extremes” in the most glowing way possible. Okay, I’m officially ready to be blown away.

Instead what I got was mildly interested, somewhat bored, and mostly the need to keep watching to see how it played out, but not because I was enjoying, rather more like needing to watch a car accident on the side of the road that you know is slowing down traffic – you just have to watch anyway. But that’s just me, and I always want to see how movies play out. Adi on the other hand actually left the theater. After about 45 minutes of shuffling restlessly, she apologized and told me that she’d rather walk around The Grove and meet me after the movie ended. I thanked her for not asking me to leave as well, but couldn’t blame her. The movie was simply pointless. Yes it was about nihilism. Yes it was about the aimlessness of young people who need to feel a purpose and haven’t found that yet. But so what? Haven’t there been great movies done in the past that manage to depict hopelessness and selfish searching – movies such as The Graduate, and Garden State? Even the show Girls shows this same self-centered period of life in a way that’s far more entertaining and less weird/experimental cinema, with gobs of nudity. And if it’s naked images you’re looking for, Spring Breakers will provide you with plenty of gratuitous scenes of debauchery, entire montages of them (done artfully of course) , but even that will become tedious to the most juvenile of us boys watching the movie. Why? Because none of it had a point or much of a story, or goes anywhere.

The entire thing could have been an interesting 10 minute short, where you see the girls want to go on Spring Break, do bad things to get there, enjoy losing their minds once they arrive, and then get caught up in the underworld of it all. That’s the movie, and the more I think about it the more I wish it had been a short. Because as a drawn-out film I tired of it very quickly. The bizarre, experimental, nonlinear camerawork was what you’d expect to see shown in a modern art museum on a wall, but not interesting on the big screen for 94 minutes. Does being experimental and “different” make something good? Many film snobs would argue yes, or at least appreciate the effort. I say that if you can’t give me a story I care about, something to latch onto and be entertained/mesmerized/emotionally attached to, then I just don’t care; and if I don’t care, then what’s the point? I can’t even count the number of times you’d slowly hear the words “Spriiing Breaaaak” repeated in some Tom Waits-type growl, and I grew more and more impatient.  The movie involves watching an endless montage of imagery that you see over, and over and over again. Girls were restless, and hung out with bad guys, doing bad things. Fine, I got it the 4th time you showed it Mr. Korine.

James Franco was perfect in his bizarre role as a white-rapper/gangster, which you can see photographed here. Adi and I had just finished enjoying Oz The Great And Powerful, and agreed that James Franco was the worst part of it all; so it was ironic when we agreed he was the best part of THIS movie that we didn’t care for. He just got lost in this quirky role and from what I understand was quite the “method actor” throughout the filming. In fact his role was supposedly based on a combination of Riff Raff, and this bizarre real-life person, Dangeruss (shown on the right, with Franco on the left shadowing him in preparation for the role).

The biggest hype of the movie is that it stars “good girls being very bad”. It’s true, Selena Gomez from the Disney Channel is doing bad things in it, though she’s the one with the conscience of the group who does the least bad. Vanessa Hudgens from High School Musical was truly “bad”, and did a nice job of it, as did Ashley Benson from Pretty Little Liars (and ABC Family show). But after the novelty of watching these actresses committing crimes, doing drugs and having sex wore off, I was left with the same attitude of “who cares” that I previously mentioned. And I certainly never came close to connecting with the characters in the slightest. Perhaps college-aged girls who watch this movie will identify with it more, and disagree with my overall assessment.

The NY Times and other critics can praise a movie like this all they want, and bash a movie like The Incredible Burt Wonderstone to their heart’s content, but this is my blog, and I stand by my own taste in cinema.

The movie was better than Tree Of Life, a movie I compare it to only because that also was less plot-oriented and more about the experimental visuals that ensued. It also got phenomenal reviews, but I was far more bored watching it. Spring Breakers was worse than Heathers, a movie about girls being dark and murderous that actually holds up as a weird but entertaining dark comedy to watch.

Quality Rating: C (I refuse to give it a high grade just because it may have been well filmed. If you bore me, you lose many points, end of story)

Boaz Rating: D+ (My curiosity allowed me to enjoy it just enough for this low rating)

Oz The Great And Powerful (“My Take On Eagerly Anticipated Movies”)

31 Mar

Image

Synopsis: “A small-time magician is swept away to an enchanted land and is forced into a power struggle between three witches.” (Rated PG; 2 hours, 7 minutes)

Everything about this movie screams that I would love it:
1. Sequel/Prequel – Yes, I’m a sucker for these. I know, I know…they usually disappoint. So rare that they are as good as their predecessors, and many people leave wishing “the filmmakers had just left it alone and perfect without an unnecessary add-on just to make more money”. Or some rant like that. But I’m of the greedy, “I want more” mentality.  This means that when I see a good movie, I’m ecstatic to hear there will be sequels. Yes, there are many things that shouldn’t make a movie better – and often make it worse – but still give me a built-in-excitement before I’ve even walked into the movie theater. Oz being a prequel to the 1939 classic certainly qualifies.

2. 215 Million Dollar Budget – It also means if I find out the budget is even bigger, I’m excited by how visually stunning it might be (hoping for another Titanic, knowing I might instead be getting the next Alexander).

3. 127 Minutes – It means if it’s a movie I’m already excited to see, I’m even happier to find out it’s 140 minutes instead of the usual 90 (the Harry Potter movies are a perfect example of this).

4. Exciting Previews – It even ties into my wanting to watch previews for the movies, knowing that those very previews will undoubtedly give away too much information about the movies (as detailed in my recent rant about them here). I still watch those previews and turn to whoever’s next to me and say, “I can’t wait to see that one!”

5. Sam Raimi – This isn’t a guilty pleasure of mine, but simply a pleasure. Sam Raimi is a director I love to watch. He created a name for himself making the fun-as-hell Evil Dead movies. In fact let me explain just how much this man loves making movies. He made The Evil Dead on a shoestring budget. It looked low-budget, and was a totally absurd movie, but it was boatloads of fun watching this hilarious horror flick. Thanks to its popularity, Raimi went on to make a sequel, but basically wanted to make the movie that he never was able to do in the first place; and thus Evil Dead II was basically a semi-remake of the original, but looked better, was made better, and was now more of a comedy and less of a horror movie (comparable to the awesome The Cabin In The Woods). Finally he made a third one called Army Of Darkness, which was absolutely ridiculous and hysterical, and added such a huge glob of comedy that you could hardly even call it a horror movie anymore. If you like the idea of a horror comedy and you haven’t seen those movies – run, don’t walk. And although it may be sacrilegious to say, you can start with the second one. Raimi went on to make a very good dark indie (A Simple Plan), an exciting, record-breaking blockbuster superhero franchise (Spider-Man), and another fantastic horror comedy (Drag Me To Hell). Yes, knowing Sam Raimi was behind the helm absolutely excited me most of all.

How was the movie after all of this build-up? Cute. Enjoyable. A really good climax. But overall you wish it was better, and a great – not just cute movie. It begins with a really nice homage to the original in black & white, and I really enjoyed the way they tried to mimic the magic of going from the doldrums of Kansas to the exciting and colorful world of Oz. I need to clarify something at this point: Adi and I saw this movie in 2D, and not the intended 3D experience. From what I hear the opening was quite cool in 3D, and I’m sure we missed out at least a little bit of that. (As for my attitude towards 3D movies in general, I’ll get into that rant another time.)

There were nice winks to the original throughout the film, with characters and moments that you realized would eventually lead to the creation of the tin man, the scarecrow and the cowardly lion; and I appreciated all of those elements. And I’ll readily admit that it was great fun seeing the Munchkins make their big entrance back on the big screen. But there was just something I can’t quite put my finger on that made this movie that was all about magic a less than magical experience. For anyone who saw the Tim Burton version of Alice In Wonderland, it felt a lot like that. It was cool to see with a big budget on the big screen, but it never quite clicked as a great movie even if elements of it were visually impressive.  It was certainly enjoyable enough, just a matter of my high expectations hoping for something…better.

The casting of James Franco as (The Wizard Of) Oz was in large part to blame. I do realize that he was meant to be a charlatan, a trickster, all smoke and mirrors and thus a bit of a weasel; but it’s just no fun watching the protagonist as such a sniveling, whiny brat of a character. I wasn’t particularly rooting for him, and you kind of just wanted to slap all of the rest of the characters for treating him with such adoration and reverence. James Franco played Oz basically the same way he pretended to be an Oscar host in 2011: as a lazy, laid back, uninteresting character who mailed in his performance. It was bad enough that he did it as a host in a live ceremony, but for Sam Raimi to have months to film him, and somehow still think his performance was adequate as a character that kids should be watching and rooting for? It just didn’t make sense to me. (Editor’s note: Ironically, the movie we ended up seeing next was Spring Breakers, a film where I felt that the best thing about it WAS James Franco’s insane performance, as reviewed here.)

That was all on top of another fact that my friend Mark – who works for the Museum of Tolerance – pointed out to me. Franco’s character Oz encounters all of these powerful and truly magical witches in the movie. They had the power of true magic, while Oz was a faker, but yet these powerful witches reverted to their old-fashioned roles of needing a man to save the day. The more I thought about this fact the more it rang true and made me laugh. Even when these witches realized that he was all smoke & mirrors, they still wanted him to rule because of what his image could represent and do to inspire the people in the Emerald City. Really? So these witches who could basically do anything with the snap of their fingers needed a man just to be there and pretend to do things so that people could be safe again? Talk about  going back in time with gender roles!

Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis are three pretty actresses who played their melodramatic roles of good and evil well enough. Zach Braff from the TV show Scrubs, was his usual cute and adorable self, as the voice of Oz’s monkey friend (and animated very well to boot). And Joey King was heartbreakingly cute as an animated China Doll. In fact her first two scenes as both a human and a China Doll (that strongly paralleled one another) were some of the most touching moments of the movie.

For all of the disappointment that James Franco brought to the role, the movie was saved by not only its visual splendor and respectful winks to the original classic, but by Danny Elfman’s fantastic score. His music created such an effortless whimsy to the movie, that it’s impossible to know just how much better the movie was as a direct result. All of that plus the fantastic final act, which pulled everything together in a very satisfying way, really gives me hope that the inevitable sequel may actually improve on this prequel. It allowed me to leave the movie on a high note, and although I won’t go so far as to call it a great movie, it certainly should provide a few nice hours in your local theater.

The movie was better than Return To Oz, a disappointing, infrequently-seen sequel to The Wizard Of Oz from 1985. Naturally, it wasn’t even close to the beauty and perfection that was the original The Wizard Of Oz.

Quality Rating: B (The visuals, creative opening and climax made for a solid but not great grade)

Boaz Rating: B+