Make good use of your stocking money
Published: January 4, 2012
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Dir. Rupert Wyatt; writ. Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver; feat. James Franco, Freida Pinto, Andy Serkis (PG-13)
Its first act, featuring a bunch of hoo-ha involving a mustache-twirling genetics lab, a mother ape bursting through a window and, well, lots of James Franco dialogue, may have jettisoned its Oscar chances (save for Andy Serkis' deserving performance as Caesar the chimp). But the fact that the word "Oscar" isn't entirely out of place in this prequel to the 1968 Planet of the Apes (and sixth Apes movie overall) says volumes about Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver's elegant scripting. From the vertical aesthetics of the San Francisco setting to the chill-inducing reveal of Caesar's advanced development, Apes recovers and unfolds into a wildly original, sturdy vehicle.
Midnight in Paris
Writ. and dir. Woody Allen; feat. Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard (PG-13)
Allen's stand-in for this revelation is Owen Wilson, whose casting is the film's greatest asset: Wilson's permanently baffled and bemused facial expression is a living embodiment of fresh clarity. That leads to a drunken stumble into an antique carriage of sorts as the clock strikes midnight in a back alley of Paris. Inside, he finds F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda. Not look-alikes or kooks, but apparently the real deal. They take Gil with them to countless bars around the city, all of which are stocked with the cultural expats of the time: Ernest Hemingway, Cole Porter, Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau — the list goes on and on. Large portions of Midnight in Paris reminded me more of A Night at the Museum than The Purple Rose of Cairo. (Though an aside about surrealism may be the best line of dialogue I've heard this year.) Still, it's hard to throw dirt on such a well-founded screenplay that finds its life through charming atmosphere and a strong point of view. It's a good look on Woody, and one I'm sure will doom him on his next few films.
The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975
Writ. and dir. Göran Olsson; feat. Angela Davis, Stokely Carmichael, Bobby Seale (not rated)
One of the keys to understanding the Black Power movement in America — and this is something the Swedish broadcasters who captured the wealth of archival footage shown here understood well — is the value of animated opinion, sometimes at the price of factual dogma. Working from long-forgotten interviews with the movement's prime players, director Göran Olsson presents the footage with commentary and contextualization from Erykah Badu, Robin Kelley, the Last Poets' Abiodun Oyewole (whose unifying theory of the era hinges on glaring inaccuracies) and more, all of whom paint a portrait of the mindset that escalated into mutual paranoia between the government and its people. It's tough stuff, but Olsson's passionate narrative and soundtrack keep things moving.