The Morning After: Aug. 4, 2014

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Three years ago, director Rupert Wyatt and screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver took the acclaimed novel by Pierre Boule and revived it as a modern day story of how the Planet of the Apes may have gotten started. What ended up a rousing success has generated the first sequel in what’s sure to be an enduring franchise that doesn’t diminish with each film like the original did back in the early 1970’s.

Jaffa and Silver are back, but they’ve picked up new partners in screenwriter Mark Bomback and director Matt Reeves. It’s clear that Jaffa and Silver are the masterminds of this franchise as the same grit and humanity has shifted from Rise of the Planet of the Apes into its sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Set ten years after a pandemic wiped out the vast majority of human life on the planet, Caesar (Andy Serkis) continues to lead his tribe of mentally enhanced apes in a peaceful life outside of the civilization that kept many of them prisoner so many years ago.

Serkis continues to paint his characters with life and passion, generating a new personality each time he dons the green suit around which his character will physically emerge. He is truly a unique performer better able to convey complex emotions as another creature than as a human being (his traditional acting work has been less than interesting). He’s surrounded by a strong cast of characters, many of them taking the guise of of his family and confidants including Toby Kebbell as his militant adviser Koba, Karin Konoval as wise orangutan Maurice, and Nick Thurston as Caesar’s son Blue Eyes.

The visual effects are stunning and the adventures are compelling. The film’s commentary on the foundations of civilization, love, family, fear and war are as honest and as poignant as one could hope.

Guardians of the Galaxy

After the second trailer for the film was released, I feared the hokum that could develop in a property so established on its cheesy humor and insane concept. The story of a human man, a green-skinned ass-kicking female, a craggy gray alien without the ability to lie, an arborial bodyguard with a big heart and a bigger power, and a talking raccoon coming together to thwart the evil machinations of a vengeful soldier just sounds so ludicrous. After seeing it, it’s surprising to say that it all works.

Parks and Recreation star Chris Pratt plays Peter Quill, a young human abducted from earth by aliens and reduced to stealing artifacts for his abductors in exchange for their continued support of not eating him. As he comes in contact with bounty hunters, assassins and prisoners, an unlikely bond forms that leads the group on a quest to overcome the dangerous reckoning about to be unleashed by the not-so-humble servant of a celestial god.

Pratt is an affable presence, easily carrying the bulk of the film’s momentum on his recently-buffed shoulders. Zoe Saldana is strong as the assassin-cum-love interest. WWE wrestler David Bautista is surprisingly astute as the vengeful prisoner trying to take out the despicable deific servant who slaughtered his parents. Voicing the tree creature Groot, Vin Diesel whose sole bit of dialogue is the phrase “I am Groot,” which stands in for just about every expression you can imagine, giving each intonation different meaning with surprising ease. Bradley Cooper does some of his best work giving vocal life to the violence-hungry raccoon named Rocket.

Lee Pace, who is quickly becoming one of the best go-to-villains in the business is probably the most terrifying of characters in the film. As the homicidal Ronan, who wants nothing more than to destroy all life on the planet that wronged him years ago, Pace generates the kind of seething anger and maniacal genius that makes Ronan an effective and frightening villain.

Troma veteran director James Gunn keeps the humor light and the tension palpable in a film that effectively threads the needle of adventure without losing its passion, heart or excitement. Infusing a film like this with frequent bits of visual and dialogu humore is a tough assignment when you also want to create something that’s fun, intense and thoroughly entertaining. It’s a good thing that he’s signed on to direct the second film, that should keep it in the right frame of mind for an audience that wants to have a hell of a good time at the movies in a universe so unlike anything else Marvel has so far created.

Veronica Mars

I had put off seeing this film for some time. Not for lack of interest as I had put money into the Kickstarter campaign that got it going. There were a number of issues that swirled around the release of the film, including a locker system that didn’t work properly, streaming that was choppy and almost impossible to watch and other real world events that made its viewing less important as each month passed.

I finally got my Apple-purchased, Warner-reimbursed copy of the movie downloaded and had an entertaining afternoon catching up with the friends I felt like I made from the original three-season run of the acclaimed television murder mystery drama Veronica Mars. Returning to help get her on-again, off-again flame Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) out of the charge of murder leveled against him, Veronica (Kristen Bell) is thrust into a trio of mysteries that threaten to unhinge the people she grew up with and destroy the friends who she abandoned to pursue a legal career in New York City.

Much of what made the television series so fun is present in this sequel, a ragtag group of complex characters each struggling for relevance in a world that has grown up while they’ve grown apart. While the chemistry is still there, what made the show great has faded some. It’s been a decade since we were first introduced to the denizens of Neptune, Calif. Many of the favorite faces are there, but without the breadth of a 22-episode season, the challenges and altercations are ramped up, pushing the audience in more ways than necessary and resolving only one of the crimes satisfactorily.

It may not perfectly recapture the joys of that original program, but the memories are enough to bolster an otherwise moribund reunion, which might have been better served with fewer cameos and more characterization.

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