125 posts categorized "PG-13"


Editor and publisher: Reining in Mr. Write

Colin Firth, left, as Max Perkins and Jude Law as Thomas Wolfe in "Genius." (Marc Brenner/Roadside Attractions)

In the movie industry and in film critic circles, there's a term called a parking lot movie.

That's a film so good, so compelling or so thought provoking that movie-goers emerge from the creative darkness of a theater into the harsh bright light of reality and talk -- and perhaps argue -- about what they have just witnessed all the way to the car.

Genius, the dramatic verbal sparring match between early 20th century novelist Thomas Wolfe and his editor-publisher Max Perkins, drove me far beyond the aforementioned parking lot.  For the greater part of this morning, I've thrown myself into digging deeper into this volatile relationship between one of the most important writers of his lifetime and the word master who published and molded his work into Look Homeward, Angel and Of Time and the River.

Pairing accomplished British actors Jude Law and Colin Firth perfectly as Americans Wolfe and Perkins, Genius dares to stick closely to something rare in a based-on-truth night at the movies:  truth.  We can thank a trio of filmmakers for that.  The movie is based on A. Scott Berg's biography Max Perkins:  Editor of Genius.  Berg spent nearly a decade developing his Princeton University senior thesis on Perkins into the biography.  Gifted screenwriter John Logan (Gladiator, Any Given Sunday, Hugo) has fought to get this film to the screen for 20 years.

As for first-time director Michael Grandage, also from Great Britain, the respected actor-playwright has the most difficult task of all; combining all the elements into a cohesive biography of two towering forces of literature who may have been forgotten, or almost forgotten by too many.

I like the way Grandage doesn't feel the need to mention the Great Depression in words in this drama set partly in 1929.  His scene where Wolfe and Perkins walk down a New York street and encounter a soup line for the first time suffices nicely.

Genius is a clash-of-the-titans extravaganza not of swords, sorcerers and special effects, but of words.  I can assure you the battles here are just as grisly.  Every word or phrase lost by the loud, grandiose young author who writes furiously in pencil using the top of a refrigerator as his desk wounds Wolfe deeply.

Jude lays the Law down with rare, bombastic abandon as Wolfe, challenging, befriending and fighting with expertly skilled Charles Scribner's Sons editor-wordsmith Perkins.

Firth has the tougher acting chore as the editor who has previously worked with  novelist titans F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby) and Ernest Hemingway (A Farewell to Arms).   The best actor Academy Award winner for The King's Speech in 2010 perfectly corrals Perkins' quiet demeanor into a wordsmith who doesn't just correct spelling and grammar.

Perkins was perhaps the first truly great editor-collaborator.  His keen sense of story structure and ability to pare down phrases to their true essence is at first celebrated by Wolfe, who delivers his second manuscript to Perkins' office in several crates.  The novel that would eventually become  Of Time and the River originally numbered 5,000 pages.

It's not easy for women to stand out in a male-dominated movie.  However, Laura Linney (The Truman Show) and Nicole Kidman (an Oscar winner for The Hours) make the most of their screen time as Perkins' devoted wife and Wolfe's mentally unstable mentor/lover.

It's probably no accident that Genius arrives in movie theaters on Father's Day weekend.  Wolfe's writing, especially in Look Homeward, Angel, was, in his own words, "the search for the father of our spirit."  Perkins, the father of five daughters, nurtures Wolfe at times like the son he never had but always longed for.

If I can fault Genius for anything, it's for trying too hard to include all the elements of the Wolfe/Perkins relationship.  Fitzgerald weaves in and out of the story fairly effectively, but Hemingway's inclusion, brief and sporadic, seems tossed in just to include his weighty novelist reputation.

That's a small flaw, indeed.  Any movie that compels us to want to learn more about the real people behind the characters, is a must-see for everyone. 

Beyond that, Genius is an exciting journey and a true joy for anyone who respects writers and loves the power of words.

From this aisle seat, sublimely crafted words are the real special effects.

MPAA rating: PG-13 ( Some thematic elements and suggestive content)

104 minutes

Jalapeño rating:  3½ (out of 4)



'Batman v Superman' -- Superheroes, superbattle, superboredom

Why can't these guys just get along? (Courtesy: Warner Bros.)

Look, up on the screen, it’s Superman and Batman!

On second thought, don’t bother.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the umpteenth Batman or Superman big screen adventure, is straight out of the What Else Can We Contrive to Make Big Bucks Department.

Two DC Comics superheroes battling and rolling around in the mud with the ferocity of teeth-clinched, squabbling presidential candidates?  At first I didn’t get it all.  After a little research, it seems that the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight have gone at it before in the comic book pages.

A lot of times, in fact.  But now that I get it, I don’t want it.

Ben Affleck, who can act despite some poor project choices (Gigli, Jersey Girl), does all he can for a guy trapped behind a Batman mask and limited to a seething guttural growl most of the time.  Batman to Superman: “Tell me, do you bleed?  You will.”

British actor Henry Cavill, back in the cape and with a big S on his chest after Man of Steel, has the chiseled facial features commonly associated with Superman.  Cavill’s lack of even a trace of facial flexibility, however, makes me think of him more as The Man of Rock.

This film’s two best actors, Amy Adams (American Hustle) and Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network), do all they can to make the most of their screen time.  In a film where digital set pieces dominate, though, Lois Lane (Adams) and a young Lex Luthor (Eisenberg) are used merely as brief buffers to move things along to the next mega-rumble in the cement jungles of Metropolis and Gotham City.    

Honestly, I even cringe a little at the title.  Batman v Superman?  Are we to believe this is some kind of legal battle before the Supreme Court?  Nope, just a little clever title trickery from our friends in Hollywood, who, by the way, would like very much for you to spend your money and one tick over two and a-half hours of your life watching Batman and Superman throw each other through walls in the rain.

Zack Snyder (300), back in the Superguy director’s chair after Man of Steel three years ago, does an OK job of stringing together explosive special-effects set pieces.  But’s that’s all we’ve got here, except for a little monster mashing that’s been done often and better in other fight-to-the-finish extravaganzas like the Transformers franchise.

I’m thinking the best battles may have occurred in the writer’s room.  Hard to believe, I know, but there may have been one.  Chris Terrio, an Academy Award winner for his Argo script, which starred Affleck in 2012, and Davis S. Goyer, who penned Man of Steel and other Batman flicks, are credited as screenwriters here.

If you’re hoping for even a trace of character depth, plot development or more than a smattering of dialogue to explain what the fuss is all about, don’t bother looking in this sky or lighting up the Bat Signal.

Call this one Batman v Superman:  Yawn of Justice.

MPAA rating: PG-13 (violent action, some sensuality)

151 minutes

Jalapeño rating:  1½ (out of 4)


Long-suffering love, longer suffering film-making

Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer on a mission to fulfill a bucket-list wish as the title characters in "Elsa & Fred." (indiewire.com)

Early on in the so-called "romantic-comedy" Elsa & Fred, which co-stars extremely capable actors Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer, Plummer's character, an 80-year-old recent widower, says, "I seem alive, but I'm already dead."

The same could be said for director Michael Radford's Americanized remake of the 2005 Spanish-Argentinian elder-romance of the same title.

Co-written by the director and Anna Pavignano, one of five scribes credited with the screenplay of Radford's truly enchanting Il Postino/The Postman (1994), Elsa & Fred jumps over too many clichéd hoops trying to add funny to what could have been a simple tale of new-found love as the sun ebbs on life.

MacLaine and Plummer, who toyed with elder romance in the late Richard Attenborough's Closing the Ring in 2007, do all they can as the title characters.  Fred Barcroft, alternately cared for and badgered by his overbearing daughter (Marcia Gay Harden) a few months after his wife dies, lands next door to ditzy Elsa Hayes in a New Orleans apartment house.

It's not that a relationship is inevitable here that bothers me the most about this romantic-comedy misfire, it's that Radford (Flawless, The Merchant of Venice) falls into the trap of attempting -- and failing -- to transfer the zaniness of the Spanish original to, how shall we say, more sedate American comic sensibilities.

Every time MacLaine hops behind the wheel of the giant orange boat of a car she drives around New Orleans and cranks up the hip-hop music (Yes, I said hip-hop), all I can think about is Ruth Gordon cruising New York streets in various stolen cars trying to save dying trees in Harold and Maude, the dark comic classic treasure of 1971.

The two elders fall truly, madly, deeply in love despite the confused adult children, including Scott Bakula as Elsa's concerned son.  But there are two serious road blocks for those of us in the audience.  Radford and his co-writer keep throwing in characters from nowhere who show up for a scene or two and wander away.  George Segal as Fred's old friend John is one.  James Brolin as Max, Elsa's ex-husband (or is he?), is another.

Somewhere, lurking just below the outlandish nonsense, is a sweet tale about a lonely guy up for one last grasp at true love and a lovable, white-lie spewing woman with health issues who has waited for about six decades for her prince charming to come along and fulfill her dream of channeling Anita Ekberg in Federico Fellini's classic La Dolce Vita (1960).

It's not that filmmakers can't find a way to make elder romance -- even elder romance with comedy -- work in a way that younger, say middle-aged audiences can relate.   British director John Madden managed that beautifully with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in 2012.

Oscar winners MacLaine (Terms of Endearment) and Plummer (Beginners) can only force their way through situations more overly silly than fun in this one.

While it's commendable that top-flight elder actors like Plummer and MacLaine still get to bask in the cinematic spotlight at times, that alone is not enough.  Actors of this standing need decent lines to say in screenplays that don't insult the actors or their audiences.

MPAA rating:  PG-13 (for brief strong language)

105 minutes

Jalapeño rating:    (out of 4)



'Last Vegas,' where laughs go to die

Kevin Kline, left, Morgan Freeman, Robert De Niro and Michael Douglas go through the motions in "Last Vegas." (CBS Films)
Last Vegas sounded like such a fun, silly idea at first. 

Four lifelong buddies of an advanced age head to Las Vegas to celebrate the upcoming marriage of one of their own to a 30ish woman less than half his age.

Unfortunately, even with accomplished actors Robert De Niro, Kevin Kline, Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas and Mary Steenburgen out front, Last Vegas plays like a tired, last-gasp effort of fading movie stars chasing a fleeing spotlight.

 Sure, it had to be what has been referred to by some – including this critic – as a “geezer” version of The Hangover, which has finally run its course (thank goodness) after three outings.

The only sliver of good news here is that there is no way Last Vegas should even return for one encore.  In fact, this desperate attempt at elder comedy, best friend camaraderie and looking for love in all the wrong places shouldn’t have even found the light of a projector.

Let me put it this way, if you’ve seen the trailer you’ve seen all the funny, borderline funny and watchable parts of Last Vegas.  Douglas, as Billy, the groom-to-be, De Niro (Paddy, Billy’s anger-consumed former best friend), Freeman (Archie, the heavily medicated one who loves to drink and dance), Kline (Sam, who has a “free pass” to cheat on his wife) and Steenburgen (the kindly aging Vegas lounge songbird) should have all told their agents to pass on this project; or at the very least demanded a better script.

Director Jon Turteltaub, who has found some success entertaining the masses with the National Treasure franchise of comic-adventures, can’t find anything to show movie-goers about Las Vegas we haven’t seen before.  Even worse, the script by Dan Fogelman (Crazy, Stupid, Love) relies on too many clichés – December/May engagement, mentally sparring best friends, true love waiting where someone least expects it – fails to keep this dismal attempt at sentimental comedy interesting.

Failed comedy is never pretty, but this one is ugly enough to hurt.

Save your money.  The reason has very little to do with the fact that this group of actors are all of a certain age.  For some reason, they all hitched their stars to a turkey.


MPAA rating:  PG-13 (profanity, sexual content)

105 minutes

Jalapeño rating:  1 (out of 4)


Woody and his sisters

For movie directors, some of the most important choices come before the word "Action" is ever spoken.

Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), right, and Ginger (Sally Hawkins) fight to survive. (Sony Pictures Classics)
Casting is key, and Woody Allen made a brilliant choice when he selected Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett to play a New York socialite whose opulent lifestyle has shattered in the severe drama Blue Jasmine.

Allen’s prowess is equally impressive. At 77 Allen, like Clint Eastwood and other elder statesmen filmmakers, continues to impress. With Blue Jasmine, though, Allen showcases one of his biggest cinematic attributes: the uncanny ability to cast the actress.

Blanchett, the Australian acting powerhouse known for two turns as Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth (Elizabeth in 1998 and Elizabeth: The Golden Age in 2007), is the latest in a long line of female Allen stars who have dazzled. His work with Diane Keaton in early comedies like Play It Again, Sam in 1972 and Annie Hall in 1977, which won Academy Awards for best picture, best actress (Keaton) and best director (Allen), is legendary.

Allen has always known how to write for and showcase talented women as memorable characters. Case in point is Mia Farrow, a former muse and companion. Farrow is a prime example with extraordinary performances in Hannah and Her Sisters, A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, The Purple Rose of Cairo and several other Allen gems. In 2008 it was Penélope Cruz in an Oscar-winning performance in Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

When we first meet Blanchett as title character Jasmine, she is chatting nervously and rapidly to a total stranger on a flight from New York to San Francisco. That’s the physical flight plan. Emotionally, the well dressed woman who we’ll soon learn has been known to chatter out loud to herself, is in catastrophic freefall.

Jasmine, once a well-heeled and high-heeled princess of Fifth Avenue thanks to her marriage to free-wheeling (financially, ethically and martially) husband Hal (Alec Baldwin), is popping pills to compensate for suddenly deflated financial circumstances. And because, in a desperation move, she is moving in with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) and way down the social ladder.

No one should mistake Blue Jasmine for one of Allen’s funny movies. Earlier in his career, the versatile filmmaker leaned heavily on Ingmar Bergman, Sweden’s master of the dour and dreary, to churn out dramas such as Interiors (1978), September (1987) and Another Woman (1988).

Blue Jasmine, though, is pure Woody Allen. It succinctly chronicles a handful of humans in crisis from Jasmine, frantically grasping at perhaps a final chance to grab a sophistication lifeline by wooing a government official on the way up in Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard) to Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), her sister’s former husband whose own hopes of moving up in his blue collar world were dashed inadvertently, at least, by Jasmine.

By far the most significant relationship here is the delicate relationship between sisters who aren’t bound by blood, but who somehow come together to flounder around in the often-painful arena of life when no one else seems willing to help them battle the bull.

British actress Hawkins, a Golden Globe winner for her work in Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky in 2008, is superb as Ginger, Jasmine’s savior and sounding board until she summons enough backbone to be her own person.

Allen’s latest dramatic masterpiece belongs primarily to Blanchett, however. The superior talent who took home a best supporting actress Academy Award as Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in 2004, is a shoo-in for at least a nomination as best actress in a leading role this year. Blanchett’s portrait of a socialite melting into oblivion before our very eyes is both stunning and, at times, almost unbearable to witness.

Why? Once again Allen, who could be headed for another best director Oscar, has found his muse.

In this case it’s an apocalyptic one, and Blanchett is the perfect actress to channel her emotionally.


MPAA rating: PG-13 (mature thematic material, language and sexual content)

Running time:  98 minutes

Jalapeño rating: 3 1/2 (out of 4)


'The Butler' could learn from the butler

President Eisenhower (Robin Williams) and Cecil Gaines in the cinematic White House. (The Weinstein Company)
Lee Daniels’ The Butler
does something its title character, poised, non-intrusive White House butler Cecil Gaines, would never consider.  It rushes and over-serves. 

Generally, though, The Butler, as the sprawling political drama was called until a title squabble necessitated the addition of director Daniels' name, is a noble project of keen interest to anyone willing to take a hard look at the grittier side of U.S. history.

It should come as no surprise that Forest Whitaker, the Academy Award-winning title character of The Last King of Scotland in 2006, is superb to the point of jumping into the Oscar contender’s race again as Gaines.

Whitaker waved his fist in the air and screamed orders as dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland.  As Gaines, though, one of his generation’s most gifted actors gets under the skin and into the soul of a humble man whose granite backbone was forged as a young boy when he witnessed ruthless mistreatment of both parents on a cotton farm in the Deep South in 1926.

 Slavery may have officially been a thing of the past by about a half century by then, but this film’s early  scenes may inspire some in the audience to dig out a history book and check to make sure.

First as an act of survival, then as a vocation, Gaines learns to serve.  Once he makes his way to Washington, D.C., the observant servant lands a job first at a fine hotel and finally at the White House, where he stands out as a loyal African-American serving wealthy white folks.

The Butler begins to flounder when it becomes apparent that Daniels, the Oscar-nominated director of Precious:  Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (2009), and screenwriter Danny Strong (Game Change on HBO) haven’t set out to tell a personal story, but a personal story that will touch on every significant moment in black history from cotton field violence to Barack Obama’s tenure in the White House.

Not since Little Big Man (1970), which featured Dustin Hoffman and spanned about a century of Old West history, has a film bitten off so much.  Even with a running time of 12 minutes past the two-hour mark, The Butler rushes along; alternating scenes of Gaines serving seven presidents from studious Dwight D. Eisenhower (Robin Williams) to gregarious Ronald Reagan, who is very well-acted by Great Brit Alan Rickman, with Louis, Gaines’ eldest son who migrates south for college and chronicles the civil rights movement.

Some characters come and go swiftly in this father-and-son tale of reverent service by the elder that contrasts sharply with rebellious freedom fighting by the son.  That son, by the way, is performed without flaw by David Oyelowo (Lincoln), who appeared last year in Daniels’ The Paperboy and could be in the running for a supporting actor Oscar himself.

Oprah Winfrey also brings strong support as Gaines’ longsuffering, often boozed-up wife Gloria.  Perhaps a bit advanced in age to pull off scenes as a young adult, the near-legendary TV chat host and media mogul performs her difficult character with nuance and skill the rest of the way.

I also enjoyed Jane Fonda’s brief scenes as Nancy Reagan.  Not just for Fonda’s acting chops, which she has long displayed, but just for the irony of Fonda, the über liberal, portraying the wife of a famously conservative U.S. president.

It would be a mistake to think of The Butler as the accurately portrayed story of a humble man who had a backstage pass, as it were, to history and polished the White House silverware as his ostracized son fought on the front lines of the civil rights movement, however.

This is a case of a story “inspired by” the extraordinary life of Eugene Allen, who actually served eight presidential administrations.  Strong’s screenplay merely uses the real story (which can be found in Wil Haygood’s 2008 Washington Post piece titled A Butler Well Served by This Election as a dramatic launching pad.

Characters and historic conflicts are inserted to stir the dramatic pot wildly when, from this aisle seat, the man and his humility would have served the dramatic purpose just fine.


MPAA rating:  PG-13 (some violence and disturbing images, profanity, sexual material, thematic elements and smoking)

Running time:  132 minutes

Jalapeño rating:  3 (out of 4)


'The Help' wanted, very wanted

Every once in a while a movie comes along that's daring enough to lift the lid covering the grisly history of mistreatment of black people in this country up just enough for movie-goers to take a clear, often painful look at reality.

In 1985,Steven Spielberg's "The Color Purple" drew an Academy Award nomination for Whoopi Goldberg as Celie, a mentally and physically abused victim of incest first seen as a teenager and followed for 30 years.

"Precious," ironically also about an incest victim having a second child, moved the struggle against social injustice into modern-day Harlem.  Like Goldberg, newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, who portrayed the mentally tortured title character, made the short list of Oscar nominees, but did not win.

"The Help," based on Kathryn Stockett's best selling novel of 2009, operates in the same downtrodden arena. This time, though, there's a buoyancy of levity to ease the blows as snooty white society "ladies" mistreat their nannies and maids in 1960s Jackson, Miss.

Here's what those who dearly love Stockett's novel need to know first:  Don't worry.  "The Help" is, in my semi-humble opinion, one of the finest films of 2011.

If you don't fight back tears, laugh out loud and want to stand up and cheer more than once, it might be a good idea to have someone check you for a pulse.

Director Tate Taylor worked with Stockett, his longtime pal on this project.  They grew up in Jackson, Miss., so capturing the mood of the era is never a problem.  And there's this.  This project was churning along as a movie-in-the-works before the author even found a publisher for the novel.

For that reason, "The Help" deserves a break from the usual concerns the transition from novel to big-screen of hugely popular books ("Harry Potter," "Twilight," "Eat, Pray, Love") usually stir up.

Viola Davis, who earned an Oscar nomination for brief screen time opposite Meryl Streep in "Doubt," graces this inspiring tale of courage throughout.  Davis turns in a brilliant, understated performance as Aibileen Clark, a Mississippi maid and nanny who has raised 17 white children of employers.  During that long stretch of low-pay servitude, Aibileen saw her only child die needlessly.

Reluctantly, Aibileen reveals the secrets, struggles and sacrifices it takes to be a black servant in white households in the racist '60s Old South.  She gradually opens up to Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan (Emma Stone), a recent Ole Miss grad who dreams of being a writer.  Skeeter, gradually standing up to her racist grownup of childhood pals, might just have an ear for a novel about black maids willing to tell all.  A New York City magazine editor is intrigued.

This may sound like grim subject matter, and it certainly is at times.  Armed with a smart, inspirational script he co-wrote, however, director Taylor ("Pretty Ugly People") uses the comic talents of Octavia Spencer ("Dinner for Schmucks"), who plays Minny (Aibileen's best friend), and others to garnish the difficult subject matter with effective Southern fried humor.

"The Help" is what I used to call a station-wagon movie.  We can update that now to call it an SUV movie.  That means gather as many friends and family members as you can pack into your car, van or sports utility vehicle and get to the movie house to see a spectacular crescendo of emotions likely to sweep you off your feet.

When you steady yourself, you might discover you're in a better place; a place of acceptance, compassion and understanding.


Serkis goes 'Ape,' Franco not so much

Monkey see, monkey do a major banana pile of damage in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes."

Like perhaps you, my first thought when I heard about a resurrection prequel to the "Planet of the Apes" cinematic library was something like, "Take your stinking paws off a new 'Apes' script, you damed dirty bottom-line profit guys."

All of that changed for me when it began to become apparent that the performance capture work in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" is equal, if not superior to, James Cameron's sci-fi space adventure "Avatar" (2009).

Set in modern-day San Francisco, "Rise" predates the Charlton Heston "Planet of the Apes" primate-dominant sci-fi series of 1968 to '73 and Tim Burton's 2001 re-boot starring Mark Wahlberg and Helena Bonham Carter.

Scripted by the husband-and-wife team of Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver ("Eye for an Eye," "The Relic"), the new adventure goes ape with man toying with the human mind and, as you can guess, screwing everything up.

Scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) thinks he's discovered a brain-restoring drug that will end the horror of Alzheimer's, which his father (John Lithgow) is suffering from.  Things go bad at the lab, though.  A dog-and-pony show for investors yields one dead prize chimp and a scrubbed cure for damaged human brain cells.

Without giving too much away, let's just say that Will takes his work home in the form of a baby chimp and continues his work in secret.  If movie scientists could somehow pay attention to what other movie scientists learned before, Will could have screened last year's "Splice" and saved himself -- and perhaps all mankind -- some major grief.

The baby chimp, inheriting "bright-eyes" smarts from his mama, is named Caesar and is portrayed in stunning motion-capture glory by great Brit Andy Serkis, the most amazing actor you probably have never seen.

Not his face, anyway.  In a motion-capture performance, the actor wears a suit covered with electrodes to monitor every body movement.  They are attached to the face as well, then the computer wizards electronically add the character's image around the human actor's performance.

When it's done right, as Serkis has done as Gollum in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, as the title character in "King Kong" (2005) and especially here, the process is quite spectacular.

The old "Planet of the Apes" films had significant things to say about big issues (man destroying his home planet, for instance).  The ape suits, however, took away from the impact of the story.

What director Rupert Wyatt ("The Escapist") and senior visual effects supervisor Joe Letteri (a four-time Oscar winner) do here is make great use of film making technology that has finally caught up to the visual needs of the story.

From this aisle seat, the only drawback is Franco as Will.  He was a dud as co-host of the Academy Awards earlier this year and Franco (an Oscar nominee for "127 Hours") is about as non-interesting here.  

I liked Freida Pinto OK as Caroline, the love-interest primatologist.  And Lithgow is fine as the mentally withering dad.

But Franco.  I don't know.  He seems to be slow-walking through this one.

Overall, however, "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" lives up to the title.  And once you see the ending of this film, you'll likely have second thoughts about ever wanting to face a monkey on the Golden Gate Bridge.


Yep, 'Cowboys & Aliens;' Git over it

Whoa, hold on a minute Western movie purists.

Before you get a burr under your saddle because Old West gunslingers take on high-tech aliens from outer-space in the sci-fi Western "Cowboys & Aliens," you should know that uneasy genre saddle bag-fellows have gotten into dust-ups before.

It's been a while, but left-handed outlaw Billy the Kid took on none other than Dracula himself in 1966 in a horror-Western titled "Billy the Kid vs. Dracula."  That same year, the West got a little wilder with another odd pairing.  How many of you remember "Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter"?

I didn't think so.

"Cowboys & Aliens" is a genre hybrid.  Granted, it's a far-fetched one, or at least it appears to be until you realize that in fiction there are no real boundaries except the limit of one's imagination.

Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, who concocted the comic book this film is based on in 1997, obviously can go off the usual grid when it comes to storytelling.

And so can director Jon Favreau (The "Iron Man" franchise) and, for that matter, co-stars  Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig, who draws top billing.  In today's ruthless Hollywood, James Bond trumps Han Solo apparently.

Set in New Mexico Territory circa 1875, "Cowboys & Aliens" begins with a jolt.  A camera pan across the dust and scraggly brush soon reveals a startled former outlaw named Jake Lonergan (Craig).  Jake awakes from some sort of unexplained trauma that has rendered him with no memory, but with some sort of newfangled bracelet that, to say the least, "ain't from around here."

Jake staggers into the saloon in the former boom town of Absolution (gotta love those town names in Westerns).  Before he can enjoy a few shots of whiskey, he's flirted with by a mysterious alluring lady named Ella (Olivia Wilde of "The Change-Up"), arrested and thrown in the pokey.

But not for long.  As the title clearly states, the Wild West is about to get a little wilder.  Strange lights illuminate the night sky, and before the citizens -- good and bad hombres alike -- know what's hitting them, several of the townsfolk are lassoed from flying machines and carried off into the darkness.

In traditional  Westerns, this would be the moment when a posse is formed.  Heck, that even happens when things get down and dirty (and thirsty) in "Rango."

In this one, though, the supposedly good guys, led by ruthless rancher Woodrow Dolarhyde (Ford), form an alliance with the mysterious stranger (Craig) and some equally ravaged Indians to square off against the otherworldly marauders from up yonder somewhere.

A gaggle of screenwriters throw every cliché in the book into this thing.  Dolarhyde, the toughest guy in these here parts, has a bully/wimp for a son (Paul Dano).  Nat (Adam Beach), the rancher's No. 1 hand, of course displays all the traits the old man would want in a son.

As weird as all this is, however, the production value is top notch.  The special effects live up to their title, director Favreau stirs the off-kilter genre melting pot with gusto and the acting gets the job done in all areas.  I do wish Ford had backed off just a little from his over-gruffness a little earlier than he did, though.

Think of "Cowboys & Aliens" as that odd looking, but bright and shiny dangerous ride way back at the edge of the carnival.

Then strap yourself in for a wild ride and go kick some serious alien hiney.


Wheels up for Carell's star vehicle

"Crazy, Stupid, Love" arrives totally as a surprise and packs a goofy entertainment sucker punch that refreshes, stimulates and causes a lump to form in the throat.

I like the title.  That's exactly what crazy, stupid love does to a person.

Perhaps the title is more than a little bit redundant, but the new starring vehicle for "Office" (on TV) expatriate Steve Carell sports an impact and sophistication we rarely see in the dog days of cinematic summer.

Before you'll even have a chance to drop a dollop of popcorn butter-like, nuclear waste-like substance on your shirt or blouse, a life bomb wrecks the emotional landscape of one Cal Weaver (Carell).

His wife and high school sweetheart Emily (Julianne Moore) blurts out that she wants a divorce.  And while she's blurting, Emily confesses that she slept with a guy (Kevin Bacon) from her office.  These heart-stunning revelations fire across a restaurant table at the very moment Cal was sure Emily was about to announce her dessert choice.

"Crazy, Stupid, Love," unlike many middle-age crazy flicks, keeps at least one foot -- OK a toe or two -- grounded in reality.  

Suddenly single in his 40s, Cal hits the neighborhood disco bar.  Sipping a girly drink from a straw, he's greeted by blank stares from the general 20/30something mojito slurpers on the prowl for love, or at least someone to make the long night pass a little less painfully.

This might be a different film if it were directed and/or written by a woman.

It's not, though.  Co-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, who collaborated on Jim Carrey's outrageous dark comedy "I Love You Phillip Morris" last year, take a script by Dan Fogelman ("Tangled," "Cars") and fill the screen with dark humor, steamy romance and surprises in the final reel that might just curl your hair (assuming you have some).

Jacob (Ryan Gosling of "Blue Valentine" and "Lars and the Real Girl"), the local disco stud, takes Cal under his wing.  He shows his sadsack, jilted elder what to wear, what drink to order, how to wear his hair and what to say to fish for willing companions for the evening.

I won't go into details, especially when it comes to Cal's needy commitment to his almost-ex or his encounter with a love-starved disco tart portrayed with excellent full-tilt boogie by Oscar winner Marisa Tomei.

It's best to simply strap in for the ride with a movie like this.

Just know that Carell, making the transition from a very popular TV sitcom ("The Office"), no longer needs training wheels for his star vehicles.  This is where Carell finally gets smart and learns how to stroke his hangdog victim acting tools into a big screen arsenal.

And while we're on the subject of actors finding solid footing, let's add Emma Stone, who plays aspiring attorney Hannah, to that list.

Stone ("Easy A," "Zombieland"), either blessed or cursed to bear a striking resemblance to troubled actress Lindsay Lohan, displays an acting range in this one that I, for one, was surprised by.  Very pleasant surprise, that.

This film is at times crazy and stupid.  

I loved it.