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Weekend Movie Rundown: Apes and Witches


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Reviews for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Witching and Bitching.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes- Matt Ferguson

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a damn fine summer blockbuster. This is the movie that should’ve been released last week during the long holiday weekend. The followup to 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes expands on it’s predecessor with much-improved special effects, thrilling imagery, and a story that is more complex.

Matt Reeves (Let Me In, Cloverfield) directs, and Andy Serkis once again dons the motion capture suit to portray Caesar, everybody’s favorite primate. Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, and Kirk Acevedo join the cast but it’s the apes that should get top-billing. My only quibble with the previous installment was that the technology wasn’t quite there to properly capture the apes. It didn’t stop me from enjoying the film, but I thought the movements were a little rough. That is not the case with Dawn. The apes’ facial expressions are much more realistic and you forget that the beasts you’re watching aren’t real. In an early scene, the apes go deer hunting and the visuals are stunning. The impressive effects aren’t limited to the animals portrayed, but the setting as well. The forest and post-apocalyptic San Francisco look splendid.

The story picks up ten years after Rise and humans are all but extinct after the spread of the ALZ-113 virus. Caesar and company have built their home amongst the trees in Muir Woods and have established a code to live by. All is well until a small group of humans- armed with heavy artillery- stumble upon their home and need access to a dam in the ape’s territory. The humans are desperate and in survival-mode, and an all out war with their furry counterparts seems unavoidable.

Dawn is exciting and well-made, and is more than just a fun summer movie. It is also a terrific war parable that is relevant to the times, and shows the destructive results of mixing fear, ignorance, and deadly weaponry. My only complaints are that it is utterly predictable and some of the characters (human and ape) are painted with broad strokes. Even so, this is an entertaining and worthy entry in the revitalized Apes franchise.

4 out of 5 Nerdskulls.

Afterthought- I recommend seeing Dawn on the biggest screen possible. I’m not a 3D guy, but the screening I saw was in 3D and I didn’t find it intrusive to the experience. It was cool for a few brief moments, but for the most part it’s unnecessary. If 3D is not your thing, save your money and catch a regular screening. Also, I was disappointed to learn that it will not be showing on IMAX because of the recent Transformers movie- just another reason to hate that abominable series.

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Witching and Bitching

Witching and Bitching is a horror/black comedy film by Spanish director Álex de la Iglesia (El Crimen Perfecto). His vibrantly raucous style is like a mix of Guillermo del Toro and Baz Lurhman with a dash of Alejandro González Iñárritu, a sprinkle of Pedro Almodóvar, and a good dose of dark humor.

De la Iglesia’s latest romp follows a couple of knucklehead jewellery thieves (and one of their young sons) that pull an armed robbery and are chased by idiot detectives and the kid’s crazy mother. They end up in the town of Zugarramurdi (the site of the Basque witch trials in the seventeenth century) and are soon captured by a coven of cannibalistic witches led by Almodóvar regular Carmen Maura. Mayhem ensues.

The film is a firecracker of quirky characters and grotesque imagery, beautifully lit and shot, bursting with energy. The jokes are constant and the movie is funny at times. I was at a slight disadvantage because my español is no perfecto. The movie is subtitled but (as my Spanish speaking wife explained) there are nuances in the language that get lost in translation; regional slang and cuss words that aren’t accurately translated (generally toned down in the subtitles), and things that are said in a certain tone or a funny way that enhance the humor if you understand the language. That’s probably true, but she could just be saying that to get me to work on my Spanish.

Witching and Bitching is a fun movie and worth checking out if you’re into horror comedy. The title sequence featuring illustrations, paintings, and pictures of witches performing the dark arts is a welcome jolt at the start of the picture, but the 112 minute runtime felt a bit long. The film could’ve been tightened up a bit. Most of the characters are so silly that they’re difficult to care about, but I still enjoyed the ride and there’s a nice payoff near the end. Álex de la Iglesia’s direction and the high production value are what captured my attention.

3.5 out of 5 Nerdskulls

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These films are both playing in Houston.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is in wide-release

Witching and Bitching is playing exclusively at Alamo Drafthouse Vintage Park

Other options for the weekend (and links to my reviews):

Begin Again– Playing at Landmark River Oaks

Chef– Playing at Sundance Cinemas and certain AMC theaters

Obvious Child– Playing at Landmark River Oaks

Snowpiercer– Playing at Alamo Drafthouse Mason Park, Alamo Drafthouse Vintage Park, and certain AMC theaters

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Salty Winters once said, "Everything I learned I learned from the movies." He was quoting Audrey Hepburn.