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War for the Planet of the Apes – Review

19 Jul

When Rise of the Planet of the Apes first came out in 2011, I didn’t really think anything of it. It took me a little while to finally get around to watching it and when I did, I was floored. The action, the story, and the superb special effects were movie magic at its purest. In 2014, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was released and improved on everything that was established in the first film. I thought that entry couldn’t be beaten, but here we are in 2017 with the third, and final, film in the trilogy called War for the Planet of the Apes. I am kind of sad to see this trilogy ending, but it’s remained a solid example of blockbuster film making and this latest entry may be the best of the new Planet of the Apes trilogy.

Years after the Simian Flu infected and wiped out a large portion of humanity, the apes led by Caesar (Andy Serkis) struggle to survive in the woods that provide limited isolation from vengeful human survivors. After their camp is attacked by a military faction called Alpha-Omega, Caesar decides it’s time to move camp for good, but disaster soon strikes which escalates the need to move but also ignites a vengeful spirit hidden deep within Caesar. Along with his trusted friends Maurice (Karin Konoval), Luca (Michael Adamthwaite), and Rocket (Terry Notary), the ape leader sets out to find the base where Alpha-Omega is located. The group finally arrives and sees that AO, along with its vicious leader Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson), has taken the other apes captive and are forcing them to build a wall to protect Alpha-Omega from arriving military forces. As Caesar comes face to face with an enemy like this that he has yet to encounter, he must look at his actions and the needs of his clan to determine how to proceed and get everyone to safety once and for all.

The first thing I have to talk about with this movie is the special effects. I honestly believe that these new Planet of the Apes movies are the shining example of how to use motion capture and computer generated effects to tell a story and make a movie feel more complete. Remember the old Planet of the Apes films and the costumes that were used for the apes. Looking back on them they look kind of odd, and this coming from someone who adores the original series, even at its cheesiest. The motion capture effects for Caesar and the rest of the apes instill them with a level of reality that couldn’t have been achieved otherwise, and I can say this for every film in this trilogy. There are a few close up where the eyes of these apes look so real that it’s hard to believe they just don’t have actual apes playing these roles. While I’m on this topic, can Andy Serkis just get an Oscar already. The emotions and movements of Caesar are all Serkis and I feel like he doesn’t get the praise that he has deserved for years.

With this being the final film of the trilogy, I expected this to be the largest and most epic in terms of scale. This really isn’t the case. Rise of the Planet of the Apes has a huge finale on the Golden Gate Bridge, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has Koba and his followers attacking the humans in an all out battle, but War for the Planet of the Apes has a climax that is relatively smaller in comparison. This doesn’t make it more intense, however. When the major conflict of the film is finally addressed, which is the tension between Caesar and the Colonel, it’s a devastating scene that completely reinforces the themes that this movie is presenting and the moral strength and beliefs of the characters. There is a lot less action here, but Caesar’s war to free his apes and lead them to freedom is a continuing struggle that will leave your eyes glued to the screen for the nearly two and a half hour long runtime. There can be a lot of adjectives used to describe this movie, but boring would not be one of them.

The story to this film isn’t just a leave your brain at the door kind of narrative. In fact, I feel like I need to watch this movie again to fully see everything this movie had to offer. From beginning to end, there’s Biblical symbolism sprinkled throughout which can be both obvious and subtle. While there’s also clear hero and villains in this movie, writer/director Matt Reeves is interested in also showing the flaws of both. Caesar starts to see a lot of Koba in himself which frightens him, and the Colonel has motivations to do what he does other than just pure evil and sadism. This makes the story and the outcome feel heavier and puts it a step above the average summer blockbuster. I will say, there are a few moments of this movie where the suspension of disbelief is taken to the most extreme. One scene in particular actually pulled me out of the cinematic trance I was in and prompted me to turn to my friend, who was equally confused, and just ask why the film makers would make this choice.

War for the Planet of the Apes is one of the strongest summer blockbusters to come out in quite a while and is certainly the strongest film in this new Planet of the Apes trilogy. It explores themes of leadership and morality in such deep ways while also telling a science fiction/fantasy story of highly intelligent apes fighting for survival. With a story like that successfully tackling themes that deep, you know this film has to be something special. It also works as an intense action/adventure film that has plenty of exciting moments to keep the viewer on the edge of their seats. One more time for the people in the back, GIVE ANDY SERKIS AN OSCAR. In all seriousness though, War for the Planet of the Apes is an excellent film, and this entire trilogy shouldn’t be missed out on.

Final Grade: A

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – Review

19 Jul

Not too long ago, I reviewed the entire Planet of the Apes franchise starting with the 1968 original and covered all of the sequels, including Tim Burton’s remake and what I would consider the “official” reboot, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I considered the 2011 film to be the best in the series since the original film was released over 40 years ago. Now we have the sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and when I say it can easily be considered one of the best sequels ever made, I mean it. Not only does it build on what was presented in the first film, it completely enhances the entire experience in every way possible.

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After the events of the first film, the apes led by Caesar (Andy Serkis) are living in the redwoods outside of San Francisco and the human population have mostly died off from the ALZ-113 Virus, now known as the “Simian Flu.” Not all humans are dead, however, with a prominent group of uninfected living in San Francisco and led by Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) and Malcolm (Jason Clarke). The group has been doing well, although the fuel power that they are living on won’t last too much longer which forces them to travel into the woods to reactivate a dam that powered part of the city in the past. The humans, led by Malcolm, soon encounter the apes who eventually decide to help them in their mission. This peace and understanding doesn’t last long when members of both sides threaten to shatter everything that has been achieved, the guiltiest party being Caesar’s right hand, Koba (Toby Kebbell).

What I love most about these movies is that they were first made in a time when the social commentary that was being discussed worked very well and had a positive impact on the way people were thinking. That’s also part of the reason why I think Tim Burton’s movie failed as much as it did. There was no real discussion to be had. With Rise of the Planet of the Apes and now Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the social commentary is back and more relevant than ever. This film is one of the most intelligent summer blockbusters I have seen in a while. It may be a story about man vs ape, but it’s also a story about how prejudice and our preconceived notions and hatreds are enough to spark violence on any scale. This may not be anything new, but in light of recent events all around the world, it’s a message that needs to be heard.

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It may not come as a surprise to most people when I say that Andy Serkis is one of the best actors in the business. It annoys me to no end that he hasn’t even been nominated for any Academy Awards for his performances. I’ve heard arguments that he isn’t “actually in the movie” which is complete bullshit and here’s why. Every movement and emotion of Caesar’s that you see is all Andy Serkis. He is acting in this movie and deserves the proper recognition. That goes for a lot of the other actors too, mainly Toby Kebbell as Koba and Nick Thurston as Blue Eyes. The human cast are all fine too, but the real emotion lies with the apes. Even Gary Oldman is completely outdone by the motion capture actors.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is also the best looking movie you’re going to see all summer and possibly the entire year. The special effects in this movie are absolutely perfect. One scene in particular shows Koba in a close up and it was unbelievable how real it looked. I was shocked. Don’t get me wrong though. This movie isn’t all about the special effects, and the way the story is written confirms that. The dialogue and narrative are so tightly written there’s not a scene out of place. Every shot of every scene has a purpose so the movie feels just as long as it needs to be. It’s a perfect combination of using special effects in order to enhance the story telling.

I wasn’t surprised by Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, at least not too much. I knew that this movie was going to meet and then exceed my expectations, which it did. Everything from the performances to the effects to the intelligence of the story mixed together to make the perfect summer blockbuster. This did exactly what a sequel should do: build on its predecessor and ultimately be a better film. If you haven’t gotten the chance to see this piece of remarkable film making, get your ass in gear and head to the theaters immediately.

Planet of the Apes Franchise – Part 2

16 Jun

Now that the original Planet of the Apes series has been covered, we no longer find ourselves in the 1960s nor the 1970s. There were, however, a few television adaptations that branch out of the films. One is simply titled Planet of the Apes from 1974, which tells the story of two astronauts who go through a time vortex and find themselves in the same situation that Heston’s character did in the first movie. The show only lasted half a season. Amongst a slew of comic books and audio stories revolving around the universe of the films, another television show was made, Return to the Planet of the Apes, an animated series that only ran 13 episodes.

Flash forward to 2001. The Planet of the Apes saga was still considered as a cult science fiction touchstone. Of course, when there is something this popular, Hollywood demands a remake. That is just what happened. With Tim Burton in the director’s chair the remake of Planet of the Apes was released.

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Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) is an Air Force piolet on the space station Oberon, but spends most of his time training a chimpanzee named Pericles how to operate a space pod should the use for him come up. During a bizarre electrical storm, Pericles goes missing while in a pod trying to investigate for the Oberon. Leo secretly gets in a pod and ejects it, but soon gets warped through time and space, crash landing on the planet Ashlar in 5021. On this planet, humans are subservient to a race of apes. Leo is captured, but soon escapes with fellow human Daena (Estella Warren) and two apes, Ari (Helena Bonham Carter) and General Krull (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). As this band of humans and apes try to find the coordinates of a possible rescue mission for Leo, General Thade (Tim Roth), a power hungry and malicious ape, is leading an army to come and find the them to not only put a stop to their rebellion, but their entire lives.

Right off the bat, this film feels very different from the original Planet of the Apes. First of all, we see Wahlberg’s character working on the space station before he travels through time and space. Another major difference is that the planet he lands on isn’t a futuristic Earth, but an entirely different planet. And the end…well, let’s not really talk about that too much. Let’s just say it’s one of the most preposterous, downright confusing endings I have ever seen. It doesn’t leave you thinking about yourselves or society, it just leaves you thinking about how an ending could be so stupid.

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Visually, this movie is a big improvement from the original. The ape costumes look absolutely fantastic. In fact, they were my favorite part of the movie. I couldn’t see Tim Roth anywhere in his Thade make up. In that same respect, the acting is very good as well. Tim Roth leads the way with Helena Bonham Carter close behind. They both give excellent performances. The same can’t be said for the human characters. Mark Wahlberg and Estella Warren couldn’t be more dull and Kris Kristofferson’s role is wasted. The sets look okay, but this, like Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, is a very dark movie, and I had a hard time making things out in the ape city.

Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes isn’t really disappointing, but it could have been a hell of a lot better. I have no doubt that you would find this at the bottom of my Tim Burton list. The story is fine, save for the atrocious ending that makes absolutely zero sense. The make up and effects are really great and, for the most part, the acting is fine. A lot of the themes are watered down making this less of a philosophical journey than an eye popping blockbuster.

Still, we aren’t done with this franchise. In 2011, a movie came out that kicked some life into this franchise and successfully rebooted the story. Not only is it a good film, nor a great one. It’s an excellent film. I’m talking about Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

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Will Rodman (James Franco) is a scientist testing a new serum on apes in order to find a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease, with the motivation of curing his father, Charles (John Lithgow). After a problem with an ape that was highly experimented on, Will brings home her baby and names his Caesar. Caesar shows phenomenal mental growth and is kept around the house and brought up by Will and his father. By the time Caesar is an adult (now with a motion capture performance by Andy Serkis) he is showing signs of understanding and personal confusion. After a violent outburst he is brought to a primate shelter where he experiences abuse and witnesses the other apes getting abused. This forces Caesar to rise up and take command of the apes and lead them to their freedom, but humanity is not so eager to see this happen.

This movie is a strange hybrid of campy and masterful. The story is obviously pretty over the top. A highly intelligent ape leading a revolution against the humans? Yeah sure. I’ve already mentioned this movie in this review but Rise of the Planet of the Apes is very similar, story wise, to Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. This time, the story is more intense and so is the actual revolution. The last half hour of this movie is absolutely unbelievable, but the entire film itself is thought provoking and much needed return to thematic form for this series.

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What really made this movie for me is Andy Serkis’ performance. The people who vote on awards or cast the ballots need to begin recognizing motion capture performances as genuine acting. Serkis’ facial expressions, body movement, and voice work really bring Caesar to life in a way that no other Planet of the Apes movie ever could. Even though Caesar mostly just uses his face and body to communicate, he becomes the most loved character in the movie. That’s saying something. The human characters are definitely more interesting this time around, although they still can’t compare to the apes.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is just what this franchise needed. Not only did it reboot the series, it successfully did so in a rare way. In 2014, the sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes will be released, and hopefully it can maintain the same greatness as this film. The acting, the effects, and the themes are back and better than ever making this one the best the entire franchise has to offer.

It was really great finally getting to see this series in its entirety. Not all of the entries were very good, but they have held a cult status ever since their release. They are an excellent example of dystopian science fiction, and take place in a universe that is intriguing and cautionary. Even though there are still people who haven’t seen the movies, they are still well aware of the Planet of the Apes.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Review

31 Dec

J.R.R. Tolkien has created a world unlike anything anyone has seen when he wrote The Hobbit and the follow up trilogy, Lord of the Rings. Peter Jackson finally brought the trilogy to life in 2001, but there’s more to the story than was shown. Now, Jackson returns to Middle Earth with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first film of a new trilogy.

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Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is a hobbit who loves his books, his garden, good food, and peace. Adventure comes looking for Bilbo in the form of the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen). Gandalf recruits Bilbo to join in an adventure with a group of dwarves, led by Thorin (Richard Armitage), to travel to the Lonely Mountain and retake the dwarves’ lost kingdom of Erebor from the dragon, Smaug. Along the way they encounter other wizards, trolls, orcs, elves, goblins, and a very familiar ring.

When I first heard that The Hobbit was going to be three movies, I wasn’t too thrilled to hear it. I automatically assumed that it was all a cash grab and that the movie was going to be so strung out and thin that it was going to be not as enjoyable. In the beginning of the movie, I believed my suspicions to be true because it took so long for the story to get started. I really enjoyed the scenes with Bilbo trying to stop the dwarves from destroying his house, but I also ready for the actual adventure to start. As the movie progressed, however, I realized that there is so much to tell in this story that three movies actually seems appropriate. Once the adventure got started, I was completely sucked in.

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Middle Earth and its various creatures look better than they ever have. Every effect is detailed to what seems like the point of obsession. This makes the experience of seeing this movie so much better than it could have been if time and effort weren’t spent making these creatures look the way they do. Gollum, played by Andy Serkis, has the best scene of the movie where he engages in a battle of wits with Bilbo. His facial expressions and movement look as clean as ever. A lot of tho might have to with the movie being shot in 48 fps. I did notice the difference between the typical 24 fps and the quicker 48. There are scenes that are so crisp, I couldn’t help but notice. Some people are complaining about this, but I was quite pleased.

The tie in with the Lord of the Rings made me giddy. I loved seeing Elrond, Galadriel, and even Saruman interact with these characters 60 years before the events of the trilogy I have grown so familiar with. I loved putting the connections together and thinking about their characters now as opposed to how they are in the other films. There was a lot more references and cameos than I thought there was going to be, and I really appreciated all of the actors getting back together to travel once again to Middle Earth (or New Zealand).

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To me, it’s too early to compare The Hobbit with Lord of the Rings because one is a trilogy and the other just has one film out. I will say that I was nervous I wasn’t going to be too impressed by The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, but I was blown away once again by Peter Jackson. He has recreated Middle Earth and it looks better than it ever has before. While the movie is a little slow out of the starting gate, it soon picks up and becomes an excellent adventure/fantasy. I can’t wait until next December to continue the story, but for now, I’m very happy with this movie.