January 2012

Rise of the Planet of the ApesWarriorThe Hangover Part IIMargin Call

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DVD reviews by Loey Lockerby and Dan Lybarger


Rise of the Planet of the Apes


Andy Serkis should already have an Oscar for his performance as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films. Since it's too late for that, it'd be nice if the Academy would honor his work as the simian star of Rise of the Planet of the Apes.


Sadly, a motion-capture performance, covered in layers of CGI "make-up," is still not deemed worthy of such awards. Serkis is mesmerizing as Caesar, the test subject of a medical researcher (James Franco), whose possible cure for Alzheimer's has the side effect of boosting ape intelligence to a spectacular degree. While the drug ultimately fails in its original purpose, it gives the ever-smarter Caesar a chance to liberate himself and his fellow primates from human dominance.


Director Rupert Wyatt throws in lots of references to the 1968 Charlton Heston version of Planet of the Apes, right down to the font used for the title. That said, he doesn't lose sight of the fact that the original film is over 40 years old, which means many viewers will be entering this universe for the first time. He cleverly sets up the larger storyline, while still providing an energetic, stand-alone science fiction adventure. Even if the series doesn't continue, Rise of the Planet of the Apes would still rank as one of 2011's best genre offerings. If it does continue, maybe Serkis will finally get his due.


Extras: Features on "Apes" mythology and Serkis' performance; deleted scenes; the Blu-Ray also has separate commentaries by Wyatt and the screenwriters; features on scoring and special effects; a multi-angle scene breakdown; a concept art gallery; an educational feature on apes. (PG-13) Rating: 4 —LL




There have been several movies that have tried to capitalize on the growing popularity of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Unfortunately, most of them have been like the abysmal Never Back Down, which wound up demeaning the sport and its fans with wooden acting, bad writing and, worst of all, poorly staged fights. It’s a little too obvious nobody got hurt in these bouts.

That’s why it’s refreshing that Warrior is a good movie. It’s not a great one, but handing the reins to director Gavin O'Connor (Miracle) was a smart move as was casting brawny performers like Tom Hard and Joel Edgerton.

The former plays an Iraq war vet trying to make up for his transgressions on the battlefield, and the latter is a high school teacher who returns to the ring because the bank is getting impatient for his next mortgage payment.

It’s a given that these guys are going to eventually kick and punch each other in a final bout, but O’Connor and his co writers Anthony Tambakis and Cliff Dorfman overload the film with plot twists. After a while, the startling revelations aren’t that startling.

On the plus side, O’Connor does capture both the rush and the horror that come from watching two guys who punch and kick each other senseless. It also doesn’t hurt to have Nick Nolte as Hardy’s alcoholic father and coach. Yes, his off screen problems with substance abuse make it seem like typecasting, but he’s just about perfect for the role, as are Hardy and Edgerton. It’s also worth noting that both as convincing as Pennsylvanians despite the fact that Hardy is British and Edgerton is Australian.


Extras: A commentary track by O’Connor, Tambakis and Edgerton, and another by Nolte. A gag reel called “Cheap Shots” as well as a slew of making of featurettes. (R) Rating: 3.5 —DL



The Hangover Part II


The raunchy joy of The Hangover came from its fundamental simplicity: Bachelor-party attendees wake up in trashed Vegas hotel room, then try to piece together how they got there and why they can't find the groom. Add a talented cast willing to do literally anything for a laugh, and you've got comedy gold.


Coming up with an interesting sequel to this kind of premise is much more challenging so the makers of The Hangover Part II didn't even bother. They just took the original script, changed the setting to Thailand, and switched a few names around (this time, it's Ed Helms' Stu getting married). The actors are still funny together (especially Helms and Bradley Cooper), and a Capuchin monkey named Crystal steals the whole movie, but they don't seem any more interested in what's happening than the filmmakers are.


Director Todd Phillips gets plenty of mileage out of Bangkok's seedy reputation, but it's basically just an excuse to push the R rating past the breaking point. When a movie is this lazy, even full-frontal transvestite nudity seems kind of dull.


Extras: A couple of fake comedic documentaries; gag and action mash-up reels; a feature on Phillips' directing style; a profile of Crystal the monkey. (R) Rating: 2 —LL


Margin Call


C. Chandor’s sure-footed debut had an all too brief run in theaters so its debut on DVD is worth celebrating. This claustrophobic nail-biter follows a one-day period in 2008 when a Wall Street investment bank discovers their assets aren’t assets at all. A disgruntled employee (Stanley Tucci) and his subordinate (Zachary Quinto) discover that if the bank doesn’t unload their now worthless securities quickly, the firm will go belly up.


The bank’s CEO (Jeremy Irons) obviously didn’t rise to the top because he’s a nice guy, but what makes Margin Call chilling is that almost no one in the film raises much of an objection to the bank committing widespread fraud. While some in the firm might have qualms (particularly an auditor played by Demi Moore), the lack of any sense of outrage is actually more dramatically powerful than a series of heated clashes. Apparently, Chandor figured the audience didn’t need to be told that this was worth a bit of anger.


Chandor makes all the financial jargon accessible. He also does something daring by painting these white-collar crooks sympathetically. Kevin Spacey is terrific as a mid-level manager with a failed marriage and a dying dog. It’s almost tempting to forgive the guy because he’s one of the few who feels regret of the scheme. That ends when you realize these folks steal far more than a typical bank robber with a shotgun.


Seeing people who aren’t obviously monsters committing such heinous acts is actually more shocking than seeing monolithic villains foreclosing on people. Some people find slasher films with larger-than-life bad guys scary. To me, a world where ordinary, even likable people flagrantly cheat each other with hardly a hint of remorse is much more frightening.


Extras: A commentary track by Chandor and producer Neal Dodson, deleted scenes and a featurette. (R) Rating: 4 —DL




Loey Lockerby can be contacted at lrl94@aol.com.
Dan Lybarger can be contacted at Lybarger@eFilmcritic.com.