When we say a movie has an epic scope, it’s easy to flash to the image of battling pirate ships or massive space worlds. Richard Linklater’s Boyhood has just such a scope but for no reason that could match any of the aforementioned.

Decades in the making, Boyhood is an ambitious film experiment dedicated to showing the passage of time in the most naturalistic way possible. Not only is there an excellent, if difficult idea at hand, the finished result is just excellent filmmaking.

Told over a 12-year stretch of time, the film follows young Mason Evans, Jr. from the first grade in 2002 all the way to finishing high school and heading to college and how the ups and downs of life with divorced parents shaped his upbringing.

It’s a big undertaking to have a story that actively takes place over 12 years; it’s a completely innovative one to eschew makeup and multiple actors in favor of filming the same actors for more than a decade. There’s a feeling of genuineness throughout Boyhood, much of it coming from us watching the same group of people over the years. Call it schmaltzy, but there’s a real warmth in watching this kid grow up and go through all the triumphs and pitfalls many of us go through during those formative years.

Then again, Linklater has a talent for conveying his stories as naturally as possible. The director leaves no question as to what place in time we’re watching thanks to some comprehensive pop culture nods, granted he didn’t need to rely on hindsight as they were happening (one scene even features a Harry Potter book premiere, reminding us all that people used to line up for hours at midnight for five pounds of paper.)

But much like the director’s Before series, the thing that drives home Boyhood‘s naturalism rests largely in conversation. Whether it be early discussions between Mason, his sister and their divorced father about politics, marriage and bowling or talks in Mason’s later years as a disillusioned, uncertain teenager, the heart of the film lies in the simple exchanges between characters that reveal just a little bit more about us as people. More often than not, it shows itself to be an introspective, beautiful heart indeed.

Now, it’s understandable that some people may hear of a film running almost three hours made up mostly of conversation and turn the other way. It’s not completely invalid either since the film takes a while to sink in in the beginning and is made up of segments rather than one pointed story throughout. As an extensive, intimate indie film, it goes without saying that not everyone will have the tolerance needed for Boyhood.

At the same time, that’s sort of Boyhood‘s charm. A film chronicling 12 years of life is probably going to be a bit lengthy and to even hit some iota of emotional truth the movie should be tender. The things that make the movie unappealing to some are what make it unique for most.

And that’s ok because at the end of the day, Boyhood is simply one of those rare films where you feel like you know more about life upon viewing. There will likely never be another film to match the remarkable technical achievement of Boyhood but at the same time there may never be another film that captures the emotions and questions of growing up as intimately and truthfully as this.



Sometimes creative people can be a bit crazy. Or perhaps crazy people just have a leg up on being pretty creative. Frank has plenty of both going on, as the film, chronicling the adventures of a mysterious musician, goes through a whirlwind of bizarre comic situations and deeply emotional moments.

At worst, it can feel like you’re going a bit loopy yourself, what with all the ups and downs. But far more often, Frank feels like a genuinely creative being, brimming with out-of-the-norm humor and moments of emotional truth, strange as they may be.

Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) is a young, struggling songwriter looking for his moment of inspiration to help make his music not quite so terrible. After a chance encounter, Jon gets the opportunity to substitute on keyboards for a show with a traveling avant-garde band, The Soronprfbs (don’t worry, not even they know how to pronounce it). There, he makes an impression on Frank (Michael Fassbender), the musical genius behind the group who wears a giant fake head at all times, and is invited to participate in the group’s insane writing process. All the while, Jon’s chronicling of the band on social media stirs up tension among his fellow members, especially the hate-filled theremin player Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), culminating in a trip to Texas where everything unravels.

Anyone who has even vaguely heard of Frank should know by now that Michael Fassbender’s performance wearing the giant head is the eye-catching aspect of the pic and deservedly so. If it’s not clear yet that Fassbender is one of the most magnetic (yes, pun intended), versatile actors around, then a) what’s wrong with you and b) this movie is the latest proof. It doesn’t matter that he’s wearing five pounds of paper mache on his head; the guy projects oodles of nuance into a character that could be just a one-note joke.

But there’s so much more to Frank than just a movie about a guy with a funny head. Director Lenny Abrahamson’s dramedy touches upon themes like the toll of being truly creative, artists’ relationship with fame and social media and bending to the expectations of others. It’s a movie with subtle but thoughtful messages and sweet, sometimes heartbreaking moments.

The danger with Frank was that it could become another precious, hollow indie flick. However, the film’s genuine emotional core proves it’s certainly not hollow, while the humor of the flick shows it’s anything but precious. Frank’s overall sweetness and naiveté results in some unforgettable gags (announcing his facial expressions and the creation of his “most likable song ever”) but it also sets you up to not expect all the considerably darker, more messed up stuff that comes from his band mates. 

There’s a consistently funny effect in going back and forth between the big headed band leader finding inspiration in everything to a sudden stabbing or the depressed band manager’s trouble with mannequins. The music itself can also be quite good despite being, ya know… out there.

Though the effect of it is understood, the tone of the film can be manic. Slack pacing in the beginning is something of a chore, as is having patience with the somewhat self-righteous Jon, but it ultimately helps once we dive headlong into Frank’s weird world and start pogoing between silly neuroticism and unfortunate happenings.

Frank is nothing if not unique. Its strange subject matter doesn’t leave many mysteries for why it isn’t playing in many locations, but it’s well worth the effort to find. Everyone should be able to find enjoyment from a wacky musician with an oversized head. However, if you’ve ever felt like you’re going to mind-splitting extremes to get your creative juices flowing, whatever your craft may be, or changing your behavior so your anonymous Twitter followers are satisfied, Frank should hit a deeper chord than just “funny head-guy movie.”


Frank is now available on iTunes and Video On Demand services, and is currently playing at the Lagoon Cinema in Minneapolis.


DC/Warner Bros.

The white flag has been thrown. After months of both Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice and the untitled Captain America threequel sitting tight on the same May 6, 2016 release date, the World’s Finest have yielded (♪ to Captain America’s mighty shield ♪…ed).

DC’s flagship film will now release six weeks earlier on March 25.

Before we all assume Marvel was the only one to show a little muscle-flexing here, the announcement did come with a big second half: Warner Bros. has slated nine movies based on DC properties following Bats vs Supes, one as soon as that August. Titles for these announced films are expected to be revealed within the next month.

While everyone on Twitter seemed to jump all this as strictly a victory for Marvel, this is really a win for everyone. What part of “we get Batman vs Superman six weeks early” is a bad thing? By the time March rolls around we’re already dying for an event movie, as the earnings on films like Captain America: The Winter Soldier — an early April release — have shown. With any hope, this could be the beginning of studios bucking the traditional summer flustercluck model and releasing big movies regardless of month.

Marvel Studios

Marvel Studios is doing pretty good now. Scratch that; Marvel Studios has never been better. Having just released Guardians of the Galaxy, perhaps their trickiest property yet, the studio has come into another smash hit in what will likely be the top domestic earner of the summer.

Meanwhile, spring was also pretty great for them, as Captain America: The Winter Soldier (on blu-ray soon) did gangbusters. The Avengers sequel is on the horizon for next summer and the studio just showed enough muscle to win the game of chicken with DC and keep Cap 3 on the summer opener date.

Gawrsh, all this good will going around and you start to forget all the shitty things that are happening with them right now too. Like, remember that little film Ant-Man and that one director guy who left because fuck artists who want creative control? Yeah, add him to the long list of people scorned by the studio. [By the way, Mickey Rourke is still talking about his displeasure with Marvel, four years later.]

Or how about the fact that Guardians of the Galaxy co-writer Nicole Perlman, the first credited female writer on a Marvel film, is getting continually discredited in interviews by Guardians director and general POS James Gunn? Classy stuff here.

And all you guys and gals wondering when the studio will finally take the big leap and make a female-starring superhero flick? Don’t worry because Marvel head guru Kevin Feige “won’t be swayed” into doing that.

Look, I like what Marvel’s doing, mostly, but there’s an awful lot of worship going on that is simply not justified when looking at how blatantly skeevy they can be. I mean, there has to be a point where… oh look, S.H.I.E.L.D. characters may appear in Ant-Man (goes back to sleep).


And yet, it could always be worse.

Back at Comic-Con it was announced that The Amazing Spider-Man 3 is getting pushed to an undetermined 2018 date, while Drew Goddard’s villain team-up, The Sinister Six, will be out November 11, 2016.

Naturally, this shakeup didn’t inspire a lot of confidence in the idea that Sony knows what it’s doing, especially among the crowd that naively thinks the movie rights to Spider-Man can and will go back to Marvel within the next five years.

Since then, Sony has beat Marvel to the punch by announcing a female-led Spider-Man spinoff flick coming in 2017. No further details were announced, but special features on the upcoming Amazing Spider-Man 2 blu-ray reportedly confirm that Felicity Jones’ character in the film is Felicia Hardy/Black Cat, seemingly putting her as the top contender to headline the project.

First, yay for Sony in being the first out of the gate to do the female-led superhero thing. Clearly, they sensed the could get some leeway on Marvel in this area and went for it. Not to mention there’s kind of a growing demand for it.

But at this point, it’s hard to imagine that this will amount to anything more than bragging rights. You can only muster so much enthusiasm for a Black Cat movie when Sony hasn’t made a truly great film starring Spider-Man for almost a decade. And this is coming from the guy who liked The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

All is not well in Spidey-land as the franchise’s toxic producer Avi Arad seems to be more preoccupied with churning out as many Spider-Man related films as possible to keep the rights away from Marvel rather than put the work in to make something amazing. For that, he would have to keep his nose out of the director and screenwriter’s business and let them make a coherent movie — something he clearly will not do. Producer/studio interference is this franchise’s biggest enemy right now.

In other news, the proposed Venom film is reportedly now going by the title Venom/Carnage. Might be reading into this a bit much, but I think Carnage might show up in this movie. The symbiote spinoff, headed by Alex Kurtzman (ouch), is also set to land sometime in 2017.

Fox/X-Men/Fantastic Four

Lastly, things are also going quite well for Fox’s Marvel properties and without all the wildly objectionable stuff to cover up that Marvel has. Seriously, they’re doing good for now, plain and simple.

X-Men: Days of Future Past was a smash hit — the biggest earner in the franchise so far. X-Men has never been more primed for big time franchise possibilities, with or without Bryan Singer (still no word on whether Fox has officially asked him back for X-Men: Apocalypse. Those underage sexual abuse allegations have been cleared but still leave an understandably bad taste.)

On the other end of the coin, Fox’s Fantastic Four reboot, for now going by The Fantastic Four, recently finished shooting in Louisiana. As of yet, almost nothing has been revealed about the project, aside from the origin being reportedly different.

The film had no presence at this year’s Comic Con, but a photo was recently released showing what could be our first look at Ben Grimm/The Thing, played by Jamie Bell.

The Josh Trank helmed reboot is set to open June 19, 2015, with its sequel already scheduled for the ever popular 2017.


5. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 / Guardians of the Galaxy

“What?! How dare you even put these two in range of each other, much less tie them. Hack!”
Oh sorry, just having imaginary, displaced fanboy screeches in my head again.
Yes, this is a pairing you won’t likely find on any similar lists, as the general consensus seems to be that everything about Guardians of the Galaxy needs to be worshiped while, conversely, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 deserves nothing less than to be shit upon.

All that is sort of weird to me because, by and large, both movies have more similarities than differences. They’re both colorful, jaunty, visual effects-filled comic book adaptions; they both rely on a good bit of humor; both have villains that don’t live up to their potential; you’ll likely roll your eyes at some point during both; and both have a significant use of music throughout.

In fact, the only real place the two films diverge the most is in each one’s respective shortcomings. Spider-Man, while definitely having some good ideas, is a studio hatchet job that never becomes one coherent story. On the opposite end, Guardians is stitched together well but can thank its willingness to stick to formula for that.

But whether messy or tame, each film lives up to its promise of summer blockbuster fun and is a blast in its own respective way.

4. Edge of Tomorrow

Not only is Edge of Tomorrow a bunch of fun, it’s a wholly surprising bunch of fun. Like finding $10 in a pile of leaves. Seriously, my interest in this one went from low beforehand to very high after.

The joy in watching Edge of Tomorrow is in seeing Tom Cruise adjust his decisions each time the day resets to either better or more disastrous results. And hey, Tom Cruise is pretty fun to watch too, as he goes from milquetoast figurehead to badass warrior. It’s action-y, funny(-y), and pretty dern clever(-y).

The ending could have used a little bit of work but by that point the film has gotten way too much mileage out of the premise to care all that much.

It’s a shame this one didn’t catch on with audiences the way it really should have, actually not sucking and all, but home video has a talent for giving new life to under-appreciated films.

Color me impressed.

3. X-Men: Days of Future Past

X-Men: Days of Future Past, like its signature letter, is a bit of a crossroads. Old meets new. Established story meets artistic interpretation. Somber meets humor. Story momentum meets character introspection.

Thankfully, DOFP is one of those movies that can pull this blend off in a very focused way. It has many memorable moments but none of them seem to demand more focus than they’re worth. Not to mention it’s kind of a blast to see this cast interact, most of all McAvoy and Fassbender again.

My personal hope is that, for the sequel, director Bryan Singer (or whoever picks up director’s duties for next time) brings more of a tangible visual style to X-Men: Apocalypse, more in line with what Matthew Vaughn did with First Class. But if that story is as good as this films is, then they will at least still have their priorities straight.  

2. Snowpiercer

When Hollywood fails, look elsewhere. What’s remarkable about Snowpiercer is that, as a foreign film, it actually manages to beat Hollywood at its own game.

There’s no shortage of sci-fi action thrillers out there. There are, however, not that many that can pull off a film as thoughtful, gritty and memorable as this one. Anyone inclined to think a bit during their gun fights should find reward in Snowpiercer as the pointed commentary keeps things perpetually interesting.

And lookey here, you don’t even have to leave the house to watch the film. It’s still available to rent on most on-demand services (good luck finding one of the, like, seven theaters it’s still playing at).

1. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

There were many good sci-fi films out this summer and a refreshing amount of movies that didn’t treat the audience like complete idiots. This film is the best in both categories.

It’s hard to talk about Dawn of the Planet of the Apes outside the context of squeeing about every little thing in it. But this is my favorites list so I’m allowed, dammit!

Where to start? The stunning motion capture performances by the hero and villain? The four or five times where Planet of the Apes iconography seemed on the verge of bursting through? Gary Oldman’s archetype-defying character? Maybe the emotional intensity that starts right away and just does. not. let. up.?

If all that sounds good, it’s because it is. It so, positively, is.


The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (August 19)

Good news: The latest Spider-Man sequel is hitting the shelves earlier than anticipated. 

Bad news: it’s because it under-performed in almost every way it could have.

Yes, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 had high hopes dropped on its shoulders from the start and couldn’t live up to it all. But despite its glaring problems, it’s still one of the most fun movies this summer, mess and all. If you can push past the fragmented scripting, mishandled villains and clear evidence of studio/producer meddling, there are many moments of pure elation in the Marc Webb-helmed follow up.

Stars Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are more electric together on screen than the villain of the piece and every single Spider-Man sequence visually hits it out of the park. Never before has the fun and energy of being Spider-Man been better conveyed. And, even if it wasn’t properly built up to, the last 20 minutes of the movie are a gut punch the likes of which we normally don’t see in blockbuster entertainment.
While Sony hasn’t scrapped all future plans by any means (Sinister Six is now on for November 2016, with ASM 3 releasing in 2018), that doesn’t mean this franchise isn’t in trouble and they know it. If there was any listening to reason, the head honchos would keep their nose out of the editing room, let Marc Webb do his thing, and cut loose a certain producer who has led these movies astray for some time.
Luckily, each edition of ASM 2 comes with a better than average amount of special features, including featurettes on the awesome visual effects of the film and filmmaker commentary. But the big daddy among them, and perhaps key in shifting perception of the film, is the 13 deleted scenes from the film, many of which include scrapped plotlines that could have fleshed the film out more. The same thing happened with the first movie and this one look to be no exception.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is available for pre-order now at $19.99.
Buy It

Godzilla (September 16)

Speaking of films that had a lot of hopes and anticipation riding on them, Gareth Edwards’ update on the king of monsters also didn’t get quite the welcome wagon they were expecting. 
But rather than decry it as a bad movie, most people were left scratching their heads, wondering “when does the big guy show up?”
Devoted superfans (or maybe just time-savvy individuals) have clocked the estimated screen time of Godzilla in this latest movie at nine minutes and 49 seconds. That’s a surprisingly short amount of time for a two hour film named after the character. It’s easy to see Edwards trying to emulate the restraint of films like Jaws and Jurassic Park in revealing the monster.
However, you need something to keep the interest up in between all the monster business. That’s where this film falters a bit. All 10 minutes of Godzilla are pretty darn cool but the human characters are largely flat, joyless archetypes and are more serviceable than endearing.
What keeps the film’s head above water is that Edwards knows how to get just the right tone out of the film and crafts some suspenseful set pieces with the rampaging M.U.T.Os and their fearsome EMP blasts. Where payoff is sparing, tension and scale are left to carry the piece.
It’s honestly hard to predict how new viewers will react to this one, whether it be them appreciating the tone and risks the movie takes or just continually checking their watches. As such, it’s better to recommend a rental first for newbs, just to make sure. If you dig it, the blu-ray editions have the requisite Warner Bros. amount of special features and should hold enough hi-def glory to make it worth while.

Godzilla is available for pre-order now at $22.99.

Rent first, buy later

Little could we have guessed that while Spider-Man was tangling its web in reboot complexities and Marvel was focusing on expanding and yucking it up, X-Men would sneak past them and become the most consistently satisfying superhero franchise around.

Sure, it took a few embarrassing mistakes getting there, but with X-Men: Days of Future Past, the series cements itself in greatness while paving the way for newer and better things.
Days of Future Past is like watching a harmonic convergence between old and new. The veterans return to remind us what we loved about the originals, while the new blood expands on what soared in First Class (the Xavier/Magneto dichotomy) and teases some great new avenues (Quicksilver). Best of all, there’s one hell of a solid story to back up this seemingly daunting effort.

There are just so few, minuscule places this passing of the torch goes wrong. It’s certainly not in performances (stellar), effects (polished) or tone (full of gravitas). Bryan Singer seems to be the only weak-ish chain, as the man is not as strong in visuals and action as he is in character studies and performances. A more colorful palette might have benefited the past scenes as well, but neither gripe makes much of a dent in the overall picture.

World started circling last month that an extended cut of the film would be released, and while that’s confirmed to be true, it looks like it won’t be released until sometime next year. Until then, fans will have to be content with a few deleted scenes on this blu-ray version, reportedly including Ana Paquin’s much-publicized cut scenes as Rogue, as well as a few other special feature goodies. The biggest missing piece of the regular blu-ray edition is a lack of a DVD copy, which, sadly, seems to be less of a given these days.

X-Men: Days of Future Past is available for pre-order now at $22.99.

Buy it

Maleficent (November 4)

When things are all said and done, Maleficent will no doubt have the strongest legs of any film this summer. The re-imagining of the classic Sleeping Beauty tale is entering its 11th week in the box office top 10, longer than any other film released since May. Domestic and foreign grosses have pushed it past heavy hitters like Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in global earnings and it doesn’t look like it’s stopping there.
Success like that is nothing short of impressive. It’s just a shame it had to come with this movie, for which there is no higher compliment than “meh”.
For being a story immersed in magic, there’s surprisingly little of it felt throughout Maleficent. All heart and ingenuity are thrown out so Disney and their production designer director can focus on what apparently matters most: dumping tons of visual effects on screen for hokey battle scenes and overdone fairy comedy.

Angelina Jolie certainly looks the part, but only occasionally gets to live up to it, as the humanizing “she’s not so bad when you understand her” angle once again manages to make a character less interesting than they were. One or two scenes are the exception to a film where the main character is nothing close to how we remember her.    

There’s nothing really to hate about Maleficent — there’s also nothing that deserves distinct praise about it. It’s just consistently stale; a concept that should be full of life but just goes through it’s required, banal motions. It just exists.

Rent it if you must

The Rest:

Neighbors (September 23)

Million Dollar Arm (October 7)

Blended (August 26)

A Million Ways to Die in the West (October 7)


We said they were crazy. We said that it could never happen. Yet here we are two years later and a movie based on the Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel’s cosmic D-list heroes, exists. So how did Marvel, at the height of their success, take one daring step further and deliver a movie where a talking raccoon and tree seem right at home?

Simple: milk the Marvel formula for all it’s worth and make the film as fluffy as possible. Some audiences clearly dig that; this is a case from the other side that sees all the so-called “fun” as misplaced priority if done wrong.

After Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), a space-junk scrounger from Earth calling himself Star Lord, comes into possession of a magical MacGuffin orb, he’s the most popular guy in the galaxy. Mainly because everyone wants to forcefully take it off his hands, most of all the alien religious fanatic Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace). To escape prison — eventually keep the orb from evildoers — Quill teams up with a band of misfits, consisting of Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a hated assassin desperate to escape her master; Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel), misfit bounty hunters; and Drax (Dave Bautista), a revenge-driven psychopath. Together they become… you know.

I like fun. No really, I do. That’s what Guardians of the Galaxy sets out to be, for which it largely succeeds. Everything you’ve come to expect from Marvel is here — crazy superhero action, snarky one-liners, stunning production values and end-credit zingers. The world of GOTG is solidly established (in what doesn’t completely feel like a flurry of exposition) and finds a nice visual blend between many sci-fi space epics, while singling itself out from it’s peers with it’s sheer Marvel attitude.

Pratt has enough natural charisma to be believable, both in the comedy and drama sectors, while Saldana gets to be at least a little bit more than “action girl”. Cooper and Diesel steal the show more than once, thanks to their vocal performance and some playful animation work, respectively. And Dave Bautista, well, he’s trying, so I guess that helps.

Pace, meanwhile, does his best mean-mugging and lands somewhere between Thor 2 and Iron Man 3 in Marvel’s one-dimensional villains spectrum. But he sure looks cool.

There was a feeling way back in the beginning of this whole saga that a Guardians of the Galaxy movie would be too foreign and off-putting for regular audiences to enjoy. Looking at it now, it’s clear this is as familiar a movie as Marvel will ever make, story-wise. Not only is the MacGuffin set-up a time-worn, rote plot, it’s one we’ve seen in Marvel movies more than enough times already. It’s not so much that it’s a story that doesn’t work (clearly it does), but it’s an obvious compromise to make the movie more widely appealing.

That might just be the heart of why this movie is so frustrating: it’s consistently compromised to make it as accessible as it possibly could be.

And all that might have been ok if they didn’t decide to throw the picture’s intelligence out the window too.

James Gunn’s script –and subsequent directing — holds blame. Humor is a staple of all Marvel movies and it’s normally in good taste. Here, the dialogue and quips are nothing short of grating, relying more on profanity than anything (the kids will love it!). High school improv shows are the closest parallel to use in describing the movie’s juvenile exchanges (Exhibit A: The “I have a plan” scene) and even then, a high schooler might have come up with better lines. It’s all part of the movie’s “too cool for school” tone that comes off as more annoying than clever; more tiresome than invigorating.

Unfortunately that also translates over to the film’s soundtrack, hand picked by Gunn, that almost prides itself in how much attention it can siphon away from the movie. Sorry, but Joan Jett and Blue Swede have no place in this space epic, no matter how much reasoning they give it. Even if the tunes are supposed to keep us grounded in humanity, it never comes off as anything more than a producer’s half-cocked plan to sell more mp3s because “PEOPLE KNOW AND LIKE THESE SONGS.”

Furthermore, the less said about the film’s embarrassing dance numbers, the better.

Each lame joke and misplaced song choice brings the movie down a notch, but every stellar action piece, performance tick or sudden emotional moment brings things back up, making for a roller coaster experience of mixed emotions. It’s another case of moments making and breaking the movie.

By the time the underwhelming post-credits stinger wraps, Guardians does end up on top, evening itself out to be a weightless, mostly entertaining summer popcorn flick that should float most people’s boats. But Marvel’s best it is not, though they’ll obviously keep telling you that. With the basic concept sold, here’s hoping that Gunn and the Marvel team straighten their priorities for next time, leave the mix tape at home and shoot for the stars a bit more.



Sitting down with the original Planet of the Apes is a requirement for sci-fi exposure and a profound one at that. It’s hard to imagine how audiences in 1968 reacted to the striking imagery of apes enslaving man, the shocking conclusion, and the social relevancy that went with it. Mind-blowing might be a good guess.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes follows in its ancestor’s footsteps, in that sense, as a more mind-blowing film likely won’t be found this summer (maybe even this year). Not just because it has the requisite summer action and showy special effects we expect — because it has so very much more than that.

Nearly a decade after the events of the previous movie, the simian virus that gave chimp Caesar and his ape brethren heightened intelligence has killed off nearly all of the human race. An older, wiser Caesar is now a father and leads a fully functioning community of apes in the Redwoods. But things quickly get out of control as a band of human survivors make their presence known, bringing out the best and worst in both groups.

Dawn takes all the good things we saw in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, of which there were many, and carries them forward to become amazing. Like our future simian overlords, things have evolved. Stakes are higher, digital effects showier, performances harder-hitting, and emotional impact more resonant — simply put, Dawn excels in every way it can and beyond.

The latest Apes entry manages to feel both like its own film endeavor and a distinctly Planet of the Apes experience. Rise had faint echoes of the ’68 classic; Dawn has harsh whispers and growing murmurs of it. Maybe its because we’re witnessing a mid-ground between James Franco curing Alzheimer’s and Charlton Heston lamenting the state of mental illness treatment.  Director Matt Reeves picks things up at a major turning point it the Apes universe and the film plays off of every ounce of tension from it.

Emotions run high here, especially the feeling of dread. More so than action, nearly every exchange is on the razor’s edge — the situation is constantly this close to boiling over and becoming chaotic. Of course it must happen and when it does, you can’t help but get the feeling that they’re taking cues straight from the original film, while rightly adapting them for this film. The film has already been referred to as the best sequel since The Dark Knight and it’s not a coincidental comparison. Like the Batman sequel, Dawn takes things in a considerably darker direction and has that same familiar “edge of your seat” feeling throughout.

But when things are not about to explode, the emotional core of the film, exploring family, community, war and prejudice, proves just how mature and thoughtful this new series really is. The film actually has something to say on these matters and isn’t afraid of letting the character relationships and themes come first. You may have to wait sometimes for action pieces to break out but it feels all the more rewarding when they do.

The first 20 minutes of the film alone feature very little dialogue, yet may as well be the basis for a masterclass in visual storytelling where less is more. It’s the little things that make the difference, like the apes mostly using sign language and sharp, focused storytelling revolving around character that make the biggest difference. And then there are simply amazing moments that pop up throughout, highlighted by what will ultimately come to be known as “the Rotating Turret Shot”.

Of course, it’s all beautifully brought to life by the cast, human and ape alike.  Andy Serkis, the absolute ace in the hole of the series, once again makes mince meat out of all acting barriers and brings a new, refined Caesar to life. Jason Clarke does a serviceable job as Malcolm, leader of the human community and Caesar’s doppelganger. Meanwhile both leaders’ second in commands threaten to steal the show. Bad seed Koba, played by future Dr. Doom Toby Kebbel, gives Serkis a run for his money while Gary Oldman, on the surface our go-to bad guy, ends up being more of a wholly sympathetic dissenting opinion than anything.

There are a lot of good movies out there and many great ones too. Then there are films like this — outstanding achievements that strap you in for every second and leave you breathless at the end. Yes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is just that good. What Reeves and company have done with Dawn is not only make a sequel that is better than the original; they’ve made a film that is as complex and moving as any there ever was.



If there’s anything this Fourth of July weekend has to say concerning film (and this whole month to some extent), it’s that there’s usually a better alternative out there. As the arguably worst franchise in the last decade pukes about in theaters everywhere, taking up precious screens, a hidden gem lies buried in just over 150 screens nationwide.

With the proper digging, Snowpiercer will reveal itself to the tenacious few who search for it as cinema gold, rich in genre thrills and highly satisfying as a thoughtful alternative to robot product placement.

After an experiment in global warming prevention freezes the entire planet, the few remaining human survivors take refuge on the Snowpiercer, a colossal, perpetually moving locomotion meant to weather the storm. Life on the Snowpiercer is good if you happen to be in the front cars, indulging on the spoils of life. For the rear car inhabitants, it’s a cramped nightmare of misery and oppression, as every effort is made to keep the established hierarchy going. After 17 years of rear-car life, reluctant leader Curtis (Chris Evans) has had enough, and with help from his right-hand man, Edgar (Jamie Bell), and mentor Gilliam (John Hurt) plans to take control of the train. By forging ahead, every dirty secret of this “perfectly balanced eco-system” comes to light.

Think of Bioshock set on a train, with the dark edge of movies like Looper and the smart social commentary akin to Planet of the Apes and you start to approach the concoction known as Snowpiercer. It’s a pure sci-fi yarn through and through, yet still balances its contemplative material with fun, visceral action.

And no, just because its sci-fi roots are strong doesn’t mean the movie isn’t accessible. Director Bong Joon Ho’s first American-made film should prove to be as enjoyable for aficionados as it is for the general audience. Snowpiercer removes itself from the mindless “action only” area of the genre we so often see these days by providing some classic quandaries on the human condition and the grey areas of classist systems.

But yeah, there’s also a lot of blood and barbarism.

The detail and situations in this post-apocalyptic world may be covered in grime and hardship but the film maintains a sense of heightened realism and dark comedy throughout. Things consistently teeter between serious and satirical (in a good way). A scene in the middle of the train with a peppy Allison Pill teaching school children some gruesome lessons perfectly highlights good satire and tickles the funny bone of farce in a most excellent way.

Themes and characterizations are deliberately exaggerated (cartoonish for some, possibly) but it’s all in the name of being more approachable. Tilda Swinton’s baffoonish Minister Mason is completely over the top, cockney accent and buck teeth in tow, but succeeds because she stands so far outside expectations, stealing every scene. Evans, the most grounded character of the lot, shines in a role that could be thankless in the wrong hands.

But even at its most outlandish or intense, Ho manages to keep all parts in line and moving on this strange beast with surprising grace. A lot happens in just over two hours, powering through cruel punishment, righteous rebellion, gross revelations, badass axe fights, comeuppance and a mournful confession or two, but you never once question it all. From the start, you’re along for the ride.

Did I mention this film is pretty great? Well there, I said it. It may be tough to track down (for now) but the reward far outweighs the risk. There will always be films based off toys and ones that star mugging comediennes that bubble to the surface on any given summer holiday. But if you look close enough, you might just find an outlier that beats all the rest.

Heck, maybe it’ll end up being one of the year’s best.


*Snowpiercer isn’t playing in many places ’round here yet but it will be soon. After initially opening in Minneapolis and Inver Grove Heights, the film has expanded to Eden Prairie and Rochester, with even more theaters to be announced starting this Friday, July 11. Better yet, Snowpiercer will be available on all major VOD services starting Friday as well. You now have no excuse.


Sunday nights on HBO just got a whole lot less pleasant.

Granted, the entire concept of The Leftovers — that of a broken family trying to cope after 2% of the world’s population mysteriously vanished and threw society into chaos — is no dramatic walk in the park. In fact, it’s a perfect opportunity to tap into more melancholy depths of entertainment that films like Prisoners recently have.

The Leftovers has a lot of potential to reap similar benefits but, judging by its premier episode, might fare better with a lighter touch.

It was a plain old day three years ago on October 14 when millions of people around the globe simply vanished. Since then, things have been a bit stressful in the town of Mapleton, New York. Police Chief Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) is fraying under the stress of his job, around town and at home. In addition to trying to raise his emotionally wilting daughter, Jill (Margaret Qualley), alone, the presence of a local cult has pushed tensions to the breaking point in Mapleton. Named the Guilty Remnants, these religious fanatics have taken a vow of silence, dress all in white and chain smoke while they stalk seemingly random members of the community. Worse still, Kevin’s wife Laurie (Amy Brenneman) is a member. Meanwhile, Kevin’s son Tom (Chris Zylka) has dropped out of college and allied himself with a different sort of cult, one that could be even more dangerous.

Upon initial viewing, The Leftovers proves it has a concept worth tuning into and more than a few good story seeds to build off. The general mystery surrounding what happened to all those people, what the deal is with these cults and whether people will crack a smile ever again are all left up in the air. Theroux casts little doubt on his ability to carry the show, as his character will certainly be put through the grinder again and again. Christopher Eccleston and Liv Tyler are also introduced in a way that practically announces that they’ll have bigger, meatier roles coming up.

But of course this is a show from Damon Lindelof of Lost fame, so don’t expect answers to plentiful or satisfying. And you know what? That’s ok. Obviously there will need to be some character-related questions that need answering but the show, theoretically, could get away with not exploring the cause of the “Sudden Departure” at all (except there are already a few hints that alien shenanigans might be happening).

That’s because The Leftovers is a show all about tone. Plot based technicalities come second to creating a feeling that one character sums up well as “intense and melancholic”. There’s a profound sadness that drenches every scene. If that’s not your thing, there doesn’t seem to be much counterpoint to it. For those like me who find some enjoyment in the melancholy, there will likely be at least one thing to appreciate throughout.

They’ve got the melancholic down; now if only they’d back off the intense. Even with the overwhelming sense of grief, there are still moments that feel the need to push it to a seemingly desperate degree. A screaming baby opens the show while a dog gets murdered not three minutes later. Pilot director Peter Berg several times goes for the ever-cheap, ever-annoying tactic of taking things from whisper-level quiet to gunshot-level loud within seconds. The concept of the show and the psychological implications of it are enough to create tension and drama, so when The Leftovers devolves into, essentially, jump scares, it feels like everything has been brought down a peg.

Again, this is just the pilot episode with a lot of room to grow. On the whole, the promise of more mouth-watering anguish is still enough to keep interested, as are characters that, thus far, are largely more likeable than ones in, say, Game of Thrones. At very least, we can probably expect less incest.


Compiling the best, most shameless cross-promotion this summer.

As we all know, summer is largely a time for artistic integrity to flourish among the film community, what with audiences lining up around the block for Lars von Trier’s latest five-hour indulgence or some such.
Well, not really but maybe in Sweden or some other magical film market that doesn’t exist yet. 
No, summer is the time for studios to blow their wads on films with the biggest budgets possible and hope to recoup some of their coke expenses. Lord knows, it doesn’t all come from the scripting department.
“Faster than a speeding check…”
With monster budgets comes a monster need for even more people to see their films. So often this results is cross-promotion, which, according to Webster’s dictionary, translates to “Hot damn, we need to stamp this shit on everything we possibly can!!!” 
That’s why we get things like Superman teaming up with IHOP and Sears last year to save the world, while kissing the ass of the National Guard during his free time.
And while no film this summer has yet to reach the level of whoring Man of Steel accomplished last year, there are still a few that are trying their darndest to come close. I’m not really bothered by most cross-promotion, provided it doesn’t beat you over the head with it (see: Transformers, any goddamn Adam Sandler movie). Moreso, it’s just kind of interesting to see what ends up with what and have fun with it.

Does whatever a USPS carrier can

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 didn’t quite get as many butts into seats as they hoped but it certainly wasn’t for lack of awareness.

In addition to releasing what felt like a new trailer every week, the ASM 2 crew partnered with the US Postal Service to put the web head’s mug on every priority mail parcel across the nation.

Their flagship ad features Spidey answering a frazzled theater owner’s prayers as he delivers the movie (presumably including the remains of however many scenes they slashed out) to an exuberant audience. Stan Lee also shows up because why wouldn’t he. in all, this ad is fairly harmless. It didn’t do them too much good in the end but it did get a certain film writer counting down the days until the movie’s release. There’s a joke somewhere here comparing how fast Spider-Man got to his destination and how fast they churned out the film but I’m not the one to make it.

Mighty marketing

Not only did Godzilla return to screens this summer, so did his penchant for doing a bunch of tie-in commercials. Following the ’98 film’s legendary Taco Bell team-upthe latest film’s marketing crew upped the ante with not one, but two prominent ad appearances. first, admittedly, is pretty damn funny. This Snickers ad sees the king of monsters before and after hunger strikes. Honestly, the ad would still be funny without a big movie tie in around the corner. But seeing how casually Toho sues for using the character’s likeness, I’m guessing this wouldn’t exist without the movie.

The other ad is… kinda strange. Somebody somewhere thought putting Fiat and Godzilla together would make sense and, bless ’em, they made it happen.

I’m not sure what to take away from the ad other than a) knowing the basics around the giant monster, Fiats must be highly radioactive for big G to want to eat them or b) one of the main selling points around Fiats is that their size prevents them from being swallowed by giant lizards.

On second thought, sold!

A burger of heroic portions

This is just lolsy now. Hardee’s/Carl’s Junior already struck hard with MOS last year and here they’re at it again for X-Men: Days of Future Past with something to make every fiber of your being squee with awkwardness.

Just glancing over the Hardee’s menu makes me think I would need some sort of genetic mutation to even get through one of their entrees — at very least, Quicksilver’s hyper metabolism would come in handy to not have all that sitting around in my arteries afterwards. Mystique may be “mutant and proud” but the hell if she’s going to be seen eating that disgusting thing in her true form.

Absolutely cringe-worthy…

Return of the king

Ohp, spoke too soon. It’s just not a product placement article until we talk about Transformers and this latest entry in the saga of awful has a recent partnership that is so ironic, it’s hard to imagine that nobody high up didn’t notice it.
You see, when it comes to film, Transformers is leading the charge in pushing the medium as far away from artistic integrity, towards pure commerce as possible. Much as I may rip on Man of Steel for its blatant marketing ploys, there is absolutely no touching what Michael Bay does in the Transformers films.
Every other film on this list has had the decency to keep their business partners confined to commercials; Bay makes his entire “films” commercials. Age of Extinction reportedly features glaring appearances by Bud Light, Victoria’s Secret and Beats, in addition to the regular GM overlords.
But elsewhere, on the cross-promotion side of things, something magical happened. Amid the sea of Oreo commercials featuring Optimus finding the strength to fight on in milk’s favorite cookie, Transformers may just have found its perfect ad partner.

I’ll just leave these here for your convenience…