Home Video Picks & Passes 1.11.15

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) — PICK
The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014) — PASS
Magic in the Moonlight (2014) — PASS

In my view, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes improves dramatically on its 2011 predecessor, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which set the stage for the downfall of the human race and the emergence of a civilization of intelligent apes, yet with little, if any, cautionary heft.

The sequel, by contrast, explores themes of hostility vs. empathy, cooperation vs. belligerence and suspicion and fear vs. daring to trust. It’s also about how much harder it is to build bridges than to burn them and how easy it can be for bridge-burners to undo the work of bridge-builders.

Then there’s The Hundred-Foot Journey, the summer’s second feel-good foodie movie — after Chef — about a family of Indian refugees who settle in a small French village and open an Indian restaurant across the street from a French restaurant run by Helen Mirren.

This is the kind of feel-good fare I usually enjoy: a celebration of different cultures and traditions coming together and overcoming prejudices, with family and hospitality — very catholic themes.

Yet where Chef trusts the simple pleasures of its material, this movie resorts to trumped-up conflict and hollow platitudes. Everyone has flaws and struggles — except the unimpeachable hero, to whom everything comes easily. There’s a difference between crowd-pleasing and pandering. By my lights, Chef knows it; this movie doesn’t.

Whatever you think of either of those films, don’t waste your time with Woody Allen’s Magic in the Moonlight, a lazy assemblage of familiar properties: a period setting, a cynical older man with a much younger leading lady and a nihilistic theme.

Colin Firth plays a 1920s stage magician and rationalist determined to debunk the seemingly inexplicable psychic displays of a young American woman (Emma Stone). Firth is Allen’s latest alter ego: a jerk but a showman who sees through everyone and everything, including God. Firth warns against magicians repeating tricks; viewers learn to spot the moves. Allen doesn’t have one new move in this smug, complacent film.


Caveat Spectator: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Brief, strong action violence; an obscenity and some crude language. The Hundred-Foot Journey: brief mob violence; mild sensuality and an implied sexual encounter; limited profanity and objectionable language. Both teens and up