A native Topekan and lifelong movie fan, Joe Zima saw his first flicks when his dad took the family to the drive-in theater. An attorney by vocation, he’s reviewed movies since 1985 — first at WIBW Radio and now between 5:30 and 6 a.m. Thursdays on WIBW-TV.
“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is a prequel to other movies in the "Apes" series. (AP)
One of my lasting memories of the old Gage 4 Theaters was attending an “Ape-o-rama” that showed all of the “Planet of the Apes” movies, back-to-back! Can you remember all of the titles (hint: there were 5 movies from 1968 to 1973 and two short-lived TV series)? In 2001, director Tim Burton did a “re-make” starring Mark Wahlberg and featuring better special effects than those in the original movies (but still using actors in ape makeup). That one didn’t do as well as was hoped, so a “pre-quel” (that’s yet another “re-boot”) has been released, that explains how Earth’s apes got so darned smart!
“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” stars James Franco as a scientist named Dr. Will Rodman who is frantically searching for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease because his father (played by John Lithgow) is fast failing from the disease. Dr. Rodman uses chimpanzees as test subjects and his latest serum seems to really boost their brain power. But when his top subject inexplicably goes “ape” during a demonstration to the board of directors of the corporation that’s funding his research, his project is shut down and his chimps are “put down." Dr. Rodman sneaks one infant chimp home and raises him as a member of the family. He soon discovers that the serum’s positive effects on brain development were passed on to Caesar (wonderfully played from infant to adult by Andy Serkis through the magic of motion-capture CGI) and his project is reinstated. But the corporation opts to use an untested aerosol delivery system that proves to be more effective with apes (but is also toxic to humans)! Meanwhile, Caesar is sent to a primate animal shelter after attacking a neighbor he thought was hurting Lithgow and (using his ever evolving cognitive abilities) he engineers an escape for all of his fellow apes!
Rated “PG-13” for violence and some mild profanity (but no sexual content or nudity), “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is a successful “origins” story that sets up another series of “Apes” movies, based upon the changes to the original story that were made in this one. I was not expecting anything special from this movie, but I was pleasantly surprised by the first-rate acting and life-like CGI apes! So, I’m giving it a “good” score of “3 STARS”! See you at the show! Go HERE for a list of the Ape movies and the two TV series I mentioned above.
When you see a lot of movies, it’s always fun to see one that tries to be different! “Cowboys & Aliens” is a marvelous combination of two of my favorite film genres – Westerns & Sci-Fi and it stars two of my favorite actors, Daniel “007” Craig and Harrison “Indy” Ford! Set in the American old west town of Absolution, New Mexico in 1871, “Cowboys & Aliens” opens with a panoramic view of the desert (somewhat resembling my yard after the recent heat wave) where Daniel Craig awakens with no memory of who he is or how he got there! We soon learn that he is Jake Lonergan, the leader of a rather large outlaw gang that recently robbed a stagecoach & made off with a strongbox full of gold. Jake has a mysterious metal shackle on his left wrist that won’t come off. Making his way into Absolution, Jake gets there just in time for a sudden attack by “demons” (so the townsfolk call them) flying in machines that resemble large metal dragonflies. It’s really aliens from outer space looking for gold (which is as rare on their planet as it is on ours) and they literally lasso humans to get their gold (teeth, watches, jewelry, etc.) and to probe their weaknesses so they can one day come back to conquer Earth! It turns out that Jake’s bracelet is really a hi-tech laser weapon that seemingly turns on by itself whenever Jake is in danger from the aliens. One of the snatched townsfolk is the drunken, loutish son of the rich local rancher, Col. Woodrow Dollarhyde (played by Harrison Ford in full curmudgeon mode), so he & Jake team up to free the human captives and stop the aliens from returning home with news about how easy the “pickings” are on Earth! They get help from Jake’s gang, a tribe of native Americans and a mysterious woman who knows about the aliens from prior personal experience (played by Olivia Wilde).
Rated “PG-13” for violence, some profanity & brief female backside nudity (but no sexual content), “Cowboys & Aliens” was apparently made by director Jon (“Ironman”) Favreau and producer Steven Spielberg for movie fans like me! There are just too few Westerns made these days and the 1870’s setting for this one gets the look just right. Criticism of this movie seems to center on the sci-fi elements, but I found the aliens to be well done and scary! So, I’m giving “Cowboys & Aliens” all “4 STARS” and a spot in my blu-ray collection when it’s eventually released to home video. See you at the show!
I love summer (except when it’s so darn HOT) - especially because it is the season when Hollywood rolls out series’ sequels, big-budget adventures and risky experiments for movie lovers like me! “Captain America: the First Avenger” is the latest super-hero adventure from Marvel studios. It stars clean-cut Chris Evans as Marvel Comics’ popular character – who’s been around since 1941! Like all first movies in any super-hero series, this one is an “origins” story, set it what has been called the Marvel Comics “universe” which is very similar with ours - but with significant changes that allow their stories to modify historical reality. In this movie, the Nazi’s have a “deep-science” division headed by the villainous Johann Schmidt, also known as “Red Skull” (and played by ubiquitous movie bad guy, Hugo Weaving). Red Skull intends to use a powerful device left behind on Earth by Odin (see the Marvel movie, “Thor” to understand what is going on) to end WWII and conquer the world – even Germany! Meanwhile, back in the U.S., 98 pound asthmatic Steve Rogers (played by a digitally altered Chris Evans) keeps trying to enlist without success. His single-minded patriotism comes to the attention of Dr. Abraham Erskine (played by Stanley Tucci), who has developed a serum and a scientific process to turn ordinary humans into “super soldiers”. Believing Steve Rogers to be the perfect specimen to prove the viability of his experiment, Dr. Erskine pulls some strings & gets Steve Rogers enlisted in a special U.S. Army unit, headed by Col. Chester Phillips (played by Tommy Lee Jones). Steve gets to be the first to try the procedure and is turned into a muscle-bound hunk with amazing strength & speed! But instead of going to Europe to fight the enemy, he becomes Captain America in a “PR” move to raise money for war bonds. Eventually given the opportunity to engage in combat, Captain America’s abilities (enhanced by a shield made of the toughest metal on Earth) make him a superb Nazi heinie-kicker!
Rated “PG-13” for combat violence (but no profanity, nudity or sexual content), “Captain America: The First Avenger” supports my theory that movies with super-heroes who are ordinary guys assisted by cool technology (like “Batman” & “Iron Man”) are accepted better by general audiences than are those featuring people with fantastic unnatural abilities (like “Green Lantern”). I cut my movie-going “teeth” on Western, Sci-Fi & WWII films, so it was a treat to see this one (especially in 3-D)! So, it gets an “excellent” score of “3 ½ STARS”! My wife, Janet, even liked it! Be sure to stay all the way through the end-credits to see an extra scene, teasing Marvel’s next big movie – “The Avengers,” due out next summer. See you at the show!
I have deliberately not read any of the “Harry Potter” books, so that the movies would be fresh – it’s a rare movie that meets (much less exceeds) the vision a good book can put in your head! So, I saw “Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” with a mixed sense of closure and anticipation. I saw it in Olathe at an IMAX theater in 3-D and the story, special effects, acting and presentation were all magnificent! Harry, Ron & Hermione are still on a quest to find and destroy the remaining “horcruxes” that contain pieces of evil Lord Voldemort’s soul. Along the way, Harry learns about the 3 “deathly hallows” that make anyone fortunate enough to hold all 3, invincible (and that he and Voldemort both already have one of them)! Meanwhile Lord Voldemort has gathered an army of loyal wizards, witches and assorted baddies to assault Hogwarts School where Harry and his friends are holed up. A big battle ensues, but it inevitably leads to a fight to the death between Harry and Voldemort! Be prepared for the demise of several of the series’ regular characters – both bad & good!
Rated “PG-13” for violence and lots of talk about death (but no profanity, sexual content or nudity), “Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” is obviously a “must-see” for fans of the previous movies and the books. It should also appeal to fans of action movies (like me) because it’s really a war movie that’s been building up a head of steam for 10 years through 7 popular (but too often “talky” & slow) movies. The acting by the stars has improved over the years and the special effects this time are truly magical! If you haven’t seen the previous movies, you probably won’t understand who is who in this one because it inexorably zips through the whole 130 minute run time. This will undoubtedly be the box office champ of 2011 and it is certainly one of the year’s best movies (Oscar nom for Alan Rickman?), so it gets all “4 STARS”! See you at the show!
Sequels to popular “block-buster” movies are a summer-time staple, so it was inevitable that Paramount would turn director, Michael Bay loose on a third “Transformers” movie! This one’s called, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” and it again stars Shia LaBeouf as Sam Witwicky – whose hot Chevy Camaro is really a sentient robot (named Bumblebee) from another planet. Like the most recent “X-Men” sequel, this movie grounds its plot in historical events from the 1960’s. In this case, America’s first manned Moon landing on July 20, 1969! If you don’t know (or care about) the difference between Autobots (good robots) and Decepticons (bad robots), then the movie (& this review) won’t make much sense. The movie suggests that the real reason for the Apollo 11 mission was to investigate the crash of an Autobot spacecraft on the surface of the moon back in 1961. It turns out that the U.S. eventually stopped further exploration of the Moon due to Decepticon influence. They didn’t want the sole Autobot survivor of the crash (Sentinel Prime, voiced by Leonard Nimoy) to be found & re-animated. Decepticons have also been hiding out on the Moon, biding their time to conquer Earth and use enslaved humans to re-build their home planet that was destroyed by their war with the Autobots. It’s all pretty far-fetched – unless you grew up playing with the Hasbro toys that inspired the three “Transformers” movies!
Rated “PG-13” for violence, minor profanity & some sexual content (but no nudity), “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” is showing in both 2-D & 3-D formats. I saw it in 3-D and the movie looked great, with good “depth of field," rather than in-your-face stunts. Look for cameo appearances by Bill O’Reilly and Buzz Aldrin (playing themselves), which heightened the sense of realism. In my humble opinion, this is the best (and possibly the last) film of the series, so it gets “3 STARS”! See you at the show!
L to R: Acer (voice by Peter Jacobson), Siddeley (voice by Jason Isaacs), Lightning McQueen (voice by Owen Wilson), Mater (voice by Larry the Cable Guy) and Finn McMissile (voice by Sir Michael Caine) star in "Cars 2." (DISNEY PICTURES)
This summer, “Cars 2” joins the short list of sequels done by Pixar (it only includes “Toy Story” 2 & 3)! Lightning McQueen (again voiced by Owen Wilson) and his goofy pal, Tow Mater (again voiced by comedian, Larry the Cable Guy) go on an international adventure as McQueen is invited to compete in the first World Grand Prix. The race is set to take place in Japan, Italy & England and is sponsored by millionaire Miles Axelrod whose “green” alternative fuel (called “Allinol”) is required to be used by all the cars in the race. McQueen’s rival this time is a feisty formula one car named Francesco Bernouli (voiced by John Turturro). While they battle it out on the race courses, Mater unintentionally gets involved in a plot to discredit the alternative fuel! With the help of British master-spy, Finn McMissle (voiced by Michael Caine) and a novice field agent named Holly Shiftwell (voiced by Emily Mortimer), Mater (who is mistakenly assumed to be an American super-spy) figures out the mystery and saves the day! Outfitted with all sorts of cool spy gadgets, Mater becomes the movie’s main character in this very entertaining homage to all of the old James Bond movies!
Rated “G”, “Cars 2” is a fun time at the movies for the whole family. The espionage plot may be a bit too convoluted for little kids to follow, but it’s full of “inside” jokes for adults – like casting the movie’s villains as notorious “lemons”, including the AMC Gremlin & Pacer. As you’d expect from Pixar, the animation is fantastic and the colors really pop – especially in 3-D! This is a movie I’ll want to add to my DVD collection, so it gets all “4 STARS”! See you at the show!
As I’ve said before, the late 1950’s & early 1960’s were my comic book reading years. Back then, one of my favorite comic book super-heroes was DC Comics’ “Green Lantern”! I never dreamed that it would be possible to make a realistic, live-action movie about test pilot turned galactic cop, Hal Jordan – but Paramount & DC Studios have done it! “Green Lantern” stars Ryan Reynolds as the title character, who reluctantly takes on the job of protecting Earth from bad guys & monsters from outer space! Test pilot Hal Jordan (played by Ryan Reynolds) has a reputation for fearless recklessness, which is really a false front covering his insecurity – stemming from the death of his test pilot father, which he witnessed as a kid. When a dying alien member of the Green Lantern Corps crash-lands on Earth after losing a fight with an evil planet-eating entity called Parallax, he sends his magical ring out to seek a replacement and it inexplicably picks Hal Jordan! Jordan reluctantly goes through training as Earth’s first member of the Green Lantern Corps on the planet Oa. He learns to use his ring to create physical matter out of green light generated by the “will” of all living things in the Universe (kinda like using “The Force” in Star Wars). His abilities to use the ring are limited only by his imagination, but his latent fear gets in the way. That’s not good, because Parallax is headed for Earth and it feeds on the fear generated as it kills whatever sentient beings it happens to find in its way! With the help of his girl-friend, test pilot Carol Ferris (played by Blake Lively), Jordan struggles to conquer his fears and Parallax’s puppet on Earth, Dr. Hector Hammond (played by Peter Sarsgaard) – and eventually, Parallax itself!
Rated “PG-13” for comic book violence, minor profanity and a bit of mild sexual content (but no nudity), “Green Lantern” is a good “origins” story with lots of fantastic 3-D special effects. It is obviously made to appeal to “fan-boys” like me, but it should also be fun for any fan of super-hero movies (or Ryan Reynolds)! So, I’m giving it a good score of “3 STARS”! See you at the show!
“Super 8” is writer/director J.J. Abrams’ homage to Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi classics, “E.T.” & “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”! Both Spielberg and Abrams reportedly cut their cinematic teeth making home-made movies back in their teen years, using Super 8 film cameras. So, it’s not surprising that this movie has a strong nostalgic “feel” for its time and place. Set in a small Ohio town during the summer of 1979, “Super 8” depicts the efforts of five junior high kids to make a zombie movie to win a contest, using their dads’ Super 8 film cameras. The movie stars a bunch of unknown child actors, including Joel Courtney who plays Joe Lamb. As the movie opens, we learn that Joe’s mother has been killed in an accident at the local plant. Joe’s dad is a deputy sheriff who doesn’t care much for Joe’s choice of friends. Joe has volunteered to be the make-up artist for the zombie movie project, which involves sneaking out at night to shoot scenes on location in various parts of town. One night, while filming a scene at the local train depot, the kids witness the horrific crash of a freight train! It turns out that the train was carrying a top secret cargo for the U.S. Air Force. When the military descends upon the town, strange things start happening – including the disappearance of electronic equipment, car engines, all of the town’s dogs and nine residents! The missing persons include the County Sheriff and the girl who’s been helping make the Super 8 zombie movie (played by Elle Fanning, Dakota Fanning’s younger sister), so it’s up to Joe and his father to solve the mystery.
Rated “PG-13” for violence and lots of minor profanity (but no sexual content or nudity), “Super 8” has the feel and look of small town life in 1979! The cast of early teen-aged kids has the natural camaraderie of real friends and the script keeps the suspense of what’s really going on right up to the end. Be sure to stay through most of the end-credits to see the Super 8 zombie movie the kids were shooting during this film. So, you get to see two movies for the price of one ticket! “Super 8” is the best movie I’ve seen this year (so far), so it gets all “4 STARS”! See you at the show!
Summer is the traditional season for movie sequels and our grandsons have been eagerly awaiting the first sequel (of many?) to one of their favorite animated films, “Kung Fu Panda”! “Kung Fu Panda 2” again stars the voice of Jack Black as Po - the cuddly, perpetually hungry, martial-arts obsessed title character. The movie starts as Master Shifu (again voiced by Dustin Hoffman) sends Po on a mission to stop Lord Shen (a megalomaniacal peacock, menacingly voiced by Gary Oldman) from conquering China using his newly-invented cannon to defeat resistance from China’s venerable Kung Fu masters. Po and the Furious Five (again voiced by Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen & David Cross) must find a way to defeat a device that was designed to defeat Kung Fu! Po’s efforts are hindered by repeated, untimely flash-back visions of his separation from his real father & mother back when he was an infant.
Rated “PG” for cartoonish martial arts violence and quite a bit of talk about death & dying (but no profanity, sexual content or nudity), “Kung Fu Panda 2” is an entertaining sequel that carries forward the lives of the original movie’s main characters. I saw the movie in 2-D with our daughter’s family in Minnesota, but it’s also available in 3-D! Our grandsons thought it was as “great” as the first movie – but I thought it was just good enough to earn a “good” rating of “3 STARS”! See you at the show!
Summer is here and (like 2003, 2006 & 2007) it’s time for another “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie! This one’s called “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” and it again stars Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow – only this time he’s the central character and more of a swashbuckling hero than a foppish buffoon! The movie starts in London, where Cap’n Jack is on a mission to save his faithful crewman, Joshamee Gibbs (again played by Kevin McNally) from the gallows! But Sparrow is captured and offered clemency by King George himself, if Cap’n Jack agrees to find the fabled Fountain of Youth before the Spanish do. Looking for a ship and a crew, Cap’n Jack discovers that someone else is doing just that – by pretending to be him! It turns out that the impersonator is Blackbeard’s daughter, Angelica (played with gusto by Penelope Cruz), who has a romantic history with Cap’n Jack. Meanwhile, Blackbeard (played by Ian McShane) is also out to find the magical fountain, for personal reasons. So, it’s a 3-way race to see who gets there first!
Rated “PG-13” for lots of piratical & occult violence and a bit of mild profanity & sexual innuendo (but no nudity), “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” is better than the 3rd film of the series (but it’s just as long)! Its plot is less confusing and it’s about time that everyone’s favorite character is brought to the center of the story! The 3-D special effects (including zombies & mermaids) are good, so I’m giving the movie a “good” score of “3 STARS”! Be sure to stay though the end credits to see the traditional extra scene, teasing the possibility of yet another sequel. See you at the show!