July 15th, 2014

WE ARE WHAT WE ARE (2013) ** ½

Last week, I was a guest on the DTVC Podcast with Matt and Jamie and we discussed the low-key cannibal horror flick, We Are What We Are. While Jamie was very enthusiastic about it, Matt and I were a bit more reserved with our praise. Sure, there are some fine moments here, but overall the film has a lot of issues in terms of maintaining a consistent pace and tone.

The plot revolves around the Parker clan; a backwoods family that keep mostly to themselves. When the matriarch dies, the task then falls on the oldest daughter to kill and cook the food. And by “food” I mean the kidnapped girls they keep in the cellar.

The horror comes mostly from the practicality of the situations. I mean, how would YOU respond to all of a sudden being forced to kill and cook people in order to feed your family? And while director Jim (Mulberry Street) Mickle gets some mileage out of these situations, when all is said and done, We Are What We Are comes up a bit short.

With this kind of low key horror flick, you have to be able to balance the scares with the mundane everyday scenes. Mickle tries to juggle these scenes the best he can, but the pokey pacing hamstrings the overall effect. And although the gore-soaked finale is a real showstopper, it ultimately feels out of step with what came before.

The best scenes for me revolved around Michael Parks, who plays the town doctor who is looking for his missing daughter. These scenes basically play out like Michael Parks: SVU; and Parks fills the role with the same kind of oddball intensity that only he can provide. Top Gun’s Kelly McGillis also pops up as the nosy neighbor and delivers a solid turn as well.

This wasn’t a bad film; far from it. But it never really fired on all cylinders either. In the end, I appreciated what Mickle was trying to do more than I actually enjoyed it. We Are What We Are… well… it is what it is.

Thank you once again to Matt and Jamie for having me on the show. I had a blast and I hope to do it again soon. To check out the DTVC Podcast, head on over to: http://www.mixlr.com/2nd-unit

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014) ****

Earlier in the summer, 20th Century Fox released X-Men: Days of Future Past, which was for my money, the only time a Part 7 was the best film in a given franchise. Now they’ve done it again. Friends, I’m here to tell you that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is without a doubt, the only time a Part 8 has exceeded all the films that proceeded it. It also happens to be best Part 8 ever made.

Look, I love the original Planet of the Apes as much as you do. But let’s face facts: Despite the mind-blowing ending, it suffers from some erratic pacing and a few extremely clunky passages. Dawn is a superior film in every way. The direction, acting, and effects are all top notch. It’s definitely one of the most rousing, entertaining, adult, and dare I say, emotionally stirring blockbuster in some time.

I cannot give director Matt Reeves enough credit here. This totally lets him off the hook for Cloverfield. He precariously balances elements that could’ve looked ridiculous in lesser hands and makes it work. There are moments that will make your hair stand on end, get your blood pumping, and yes, even give you a lump in your throat.

There are apocalypse movies that show us how the world will end, then there are post-apocalypse movies that are set further into the future, and then there is Dawn of the Planet of the Apes; which takes place somewhere in between the two genres. And it’s definitely trickier to show the time in between the shit hitting the fan and the actual apocalypse (ape-ocalypse?). And that’s what makes the flick such a slam dunk. We actually get to see the last vestiges of civilization crumble and give way right before our very eyes.

Ten years after the Simian Flu wipes out much of Earth’s population, a small band of survivors huddle in camps in San Francisco. They’re almost out of power, so they venture into the wilderness to find a dam that could possibly be a potential energy source. It’s here where they run smack into Caesar (Andy Serkis) the ape, who has made himself king of all the ape men and has created an entire civilization. Caesar, remembering that humans have the capacity for good, allows them to work on the dam. Tensions among both camps are strained, both they try their best to get along. Eventually, it just takes one trigger-happy nut (on either side) to ruin things and bring them to war.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a great, nuanced, textured, and thought-provoking film. The scenes where Caesar builds an uneasy alliance with the humans are quite absorbing. You almost don’t want the war to break out, because you can see that they COULD get along and live together in peace. But once war begins, there is no turning back.

What makes this a great film is that you can clearly see where both sides are coming from. Even the most villainous apes and men are justified in their actions (at least in their eyes). Reeves nicely builds up each character’s resentments, prejudices, and passions, so you can’t really blame them for what they do. Most blockbusters are content with spectacle alone. This one delivers on that, but also treats us to some Shakespearian level of tragedy too.

In the middle of all this, we get some of the best action you’ll see all summer. The greatest moment comes when monkeys on horseback with machine guns attack the human camp. And as we all know, the only thing better than monkeys on horseback with machine guns is monkeys on horseback with machine guns playing chicken with a tank. And even in this moment, Reeves finds time for artistry. There is a long, Kubrickian shot aboard the tank turret that is achingly beautiful and certainly not the sort of thing you’d see in your typical popcorn movie.