REVIEW: War for the Planet of the Apes

16 07 2017

Though its title may lead you to believe otherwise, Matt Reeves’ “War for the Planet of the Apes” shows precious little war. There are extended action sequences, but nothing rises to the level of a full battle. This is not a war movie, at least not in the traditional sense in which audiences are conditioned to perceive one. It’s not about the fights; rather, it’s about what we seek to preserve by fighting them in the first place.

Caesar (once again masterfully brought to life by Andy Serkis) and his band of apes that believe in their right to receive dignified treatment find themselves in an asymmetrical fight with the humans. The original intelligent inhabiters of earth, backed into a corner after the Simian Flu decimates their kind, do not exactly take kindly to sharing their planet with another sentient species. The apes are fighting a war of ideals – for peace, unity and solidarity. The humans are fighting a war of extermination, one where the only measure of victory is the complete degradation and eradication of their opponent.

As a viewer in 2017, I could not help but see parallels between the ape-human conflict and the current war against ISIS. The men who pervert Islam’s tenets can claim a win on their battleground when their actions force the western world to abandon their principles. If we choose to fight as they fight, responding to barbarity with inhumanity, we cede to their strategy and expose our own hollowness.

But as “War for the Planet of the Apes” drew on (and it does so perhaps more than it should), it became clear to me that Reeves had far more on his mind with the film than just the conflict du jour. This entire iteration of the franchise smartly avoids tying itself entirely to the events surrounding its making. Indeed, recent rewatches of 2011’s “Rise” and 2014’s “Dawn” already indicate the series’ malleability to the whims of the present; both films feel as if they refer to something entirely separate from what they did upon release. The “War” of Reeves’ film is not a war but all wars. It’s a rap sheet against human atrocity justified by armed conflict from, one could argue, biblical times to our contemporary ones.

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REVIEW: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

20 12 2015

J.J. Abrams is perhaps the chief nostalgist of our time, and he often executes this fascination with such panache that we might as well call him a classicist. The reverence he pays to the films that inspired his own work serves to elevate those movies to a higher cultural plateau. And, as if anyone had not noticed the influence of “Star Wars” on a generation of moviegoers, they have definitive proof in the second relaunch of the franchise, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

Abrams, working with original trilogy writer Lawrence Kasdan, finds that sweet spot between paying homage to the old and forging ahead with the new. The film’s action is primarily driven by two new heroes – the orphan girl Rey (Daisy Ridley) soon to discover extraordinary powers and ex-Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) who gains a conscience after witnessing the slaughter of innocence. They go up against a new sinister antagonist in Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who works in tandem with the eerily fascist politician General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson).

Yet for all these new characters, there are also the old ones there in supporting roles – Han Solo, Luke and Leia Skywalker, Chewbacca, C3PO and R2D2 are all back. John Williams’ score livens up the film. The Millennium Falcon is back. Heck, Abrams even maintains the distinctive wipes and editing transitions from the original Lucas films. Anyone who feared drastic change in the series with the passing of the reins ought to be more than reassured by “The Force Awakens.”

The coexistence of the old and the new provides every bit as much tension as the plot, which I will continue to avoid discussing in any depth lest I reveal a spoiler. (I kept my head in the sand as much as possible regarding “Star Wars” news in order to experience the film with as fresh of eyes as possible, and it paid off.) Yet even with Rey and Finn as the primary engines of action in “The Force Awakens,” the film feels practically like a mirror image of the original 1977 “Star Wars.” This was no doubt intentional, I assume, but the amount of bowing Abrams performs before the mythology of the franchise keeps his film from standing as tall as it could.

Certainly future installments in the new “Star Wars” will go deeper and bolder, making an even greater case for the series’ relevance and importance. For now, though, this served its purpose to reawaken the vanguard of longtime fans and excite a new generation. I must say, I am on board for what comes next. B+3stars





REVIEW: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

11 07 2014

Dawn of ApesThe dominant attitude that seems to prevail when making sequels is to give people more of the same.  If it functioned well enough the first time to justify a second helping, something had to be working, right?

Matt Reeves’ “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” on the other hand, completely defies the logic.  While Rupert Wyatt’s 2011 series reboot “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” focused on scientific ethics and human progress, its follow-up goes in a completely different direction.  If it weren’t for the astonishing motion-capture apes, the casual onlooker might not even be able to pair the films in the same series.

I must applaud Fox, the studio willing to front the $170 million budget, for allowing a new director to take one of their most vital franchises into uncharted territory.  Reeves uses no marquee names (unless you count Gary Oldman), focuses mainly on the apes, and never caves to a large-scale battle that could level an entire urban area.  That was likely not an immediately confidence-inspiring vision, especially given the tepid commercial reception to Reeves’ 2010 arty horror film “Let Me In.”

But “Dawn” works so well because it does not feel tethered to anyone’s agenda other than that of its creative team.  The film has the ability to explore what the series can be as opposed to how much it can stretch what it already is.  Reeves makes some exciting discoveries with this freedom that further energize what was already a fascinating franchise.  He leaves us excited for whatever sequel may follow, despite leaving no obvious indications of what the next film might entail.

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REVIEW: The Adventures of Tintin

7 01 2012

You don’t need to know who Hergé’s Tintin is to enjoy the “The Adventures of Tintin,” all you need is to be primed for an exhilarating and fun adventure with the man who introduced many of us to adventure itself, Steven Spielberg.  Whether it was “Jurassic Park,” an “Indiana Jones” movie, or “E.T.,” the director – whose name has become synonymous with cinematic virtuosity – has once again vividly realized the power of technology to invoke an old-fashioned sense of wonder in movie watching.  With the motion-capture technology looking more real and life-like than ever, it makes for an interesting paradox that “Tintin” removes you so easily from reality while so seamlessly replicating it.

Thanks to Spielberg’s partnership with Peter Jackson and his visual effects team at WETA, the two filmmakers take leaps and bounds from the early Zemeckis films like “The Polar Express” and “Beowulf” to fully capture the complexity of human anatomy and emotionality.  As a result, there’s nothing to distract you from getting fully engrossed in this old-fashioned Spielbergian adventure, no moment where you can think that a character looks fake or like an out-of-place animated replica.  It has been remarkable to watch this technology improve over my lifetime, and “Tintin,” along with “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” makes 2011 a landmark year for its progression.

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REVIEW: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

8 08 2011

Summer always brings some nice surprises, and better to get it in August than not at all!  If you had told me at the beginning of the summer that “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” would be second to only “Harry Potter” in terms of quality blockbusters, I would have scoffed and laughed.  But now, I couldn’t be happier to say that a beautiful marriage of intelligence and entertainment has occurred in Rupert Wyatt’s film, and combined with the groundbreaking motion-capture that wows and dazzles, the whole experience knocks you unexpectedly off your feet.

This “Apes” starts from the beginning, wisely stepping away from Tim Burton’s remake and distancing itself from the original series so as to make a name for itself, and provides the summer’s first (and perhaps only) satisfying origins story.  It shows us Dr. Will Rodman (James Franco), desperate for a cure for Alzheimer’s that might cure his ailing father (John Lithgow).  After a tragic accident shuts down his funding and research, Rodman throws ethics out the window and takes home the infant Caesar (performed by Andy Serkis), an ape who had been passed the experimental drug through his mother.

Caesar becomes quite the specimen of evolution and progress, learning at a frighteningly quick pace and never showing signs of slowing.  With all signs pointing towards a medicinal triumph over nature, Rodman administers the drug to his father and a cure looks locked down.  Yet with Caesar’s growing mental capabilities come what humans have long feared – an added emotional capacity that could lead our greatest creation to turn on us.

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