War for the Planet of the Apes

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★★★

The grim countenance of Caesar, the monkey leader from the Apes trilogy and a motion-captured image done by Andy Serkis, can invest an entire movie with gravity. Gone is the suggestion of a traditional fun blockbuster. Such are the cinematic times we live in where a movie called War for the Planet of the Apes is superbly crafted with special effects that it is taken with earnestness.

In this sequel, the war continues as Caesar keeps the ape society tucked high up in the forests while human aggressors infiltrate them from below. The gung-ho opening sequence has Caesar outsmarting rifled men by using spears. Events seem to be going in the apes favor, particularly when good news arrive about a discovered haven far from humans and ideal for starting a community. But just when the apes plan their migration, on the night prior to leaving, an orchestrated attack is made and Caesar’s family is killed. The ape leader arrives just in time to see the man responsible and with pure vengeance, pursues him on horseback toward a long journey.

This echoes the structure of a cowboy western in one man’s determined quest to accomplish what he perceives to be justice. It also reminded me of a handful of prison movies because Caesar is placed behind bars and inspires hope into the rest of the inmates. Perhaps one too much familiarity kept my appreciation of this story at a distance.

Nevertheless, the film is engaging as it hooks viewers with action and suspense, slows down during Caesars travels, and builds up towards an action packed finale. It also has better and wider cinematography in capturing nature and using creative camera angles.

Action films depend on villains and here, on a snowy mountainside, is the military camp headed by a madman only known as the Colonel. He is a leader without fear or mercy but played by a bald headed Woody Harrelson, the part is convincing. The Colonel has a tragic backstory which explains how he acquired his way of thinking, and it slightly changes the general outlook towards his character. So Caesar is out to get him and when he gets imprisoned, it becomes a dual mission about not only accomplishing payback but also freeing all the other apes. Behind bars and under brutal treatment, Caesar progresses through the emotions of fear, grief, and empathy. But there is also hope because along with his travels are three apes, some of whom have disagreed with the personal mission, but after witnessing the prison atrocities from a distance, decide to concoct an escape plan. They are Maurice, Luca, and Rocket who are voiced by Karin Konoval, Michael Adamthwaite, and Terry Notary.     

Directed and written by Matt Reeves and co written by Mark Bomback, the ape trilogy brings about many opinions that are not new. They are very consequential in that it all stems from the fear incurred in the coexistence of differing species. And then it moves into the importance of proper communication between them. When all else fails, comes self-preservation, how war can lead to extremist behavior, and how hatred is difficult to overcome (for some). Cesar and the Colonel fall victim to some of those issues.  War for the Planet of the Apes concludes the trilogy with an emotional finish. I didn’t think it tread on any new ground, using straightforward motivations and reflecting on other prison movies, but the execution is undeniably excellent. 

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Maudie

maudie

★★★

Maudie is both a lovely and heartbreaking film about the true story of a woman who silently endured and transcended her troubles, while becoming a great painter.

The story takes place in a small scenic community of Nova Scotia. There lives Maud Lewis, a quiet and arthritic woman who was abandoned by the remaining member of her family. And outside of that setting, living alone in a tiny house, is a fisherman named Everett who seems rude and disliked by the townsfolk. One day, he walks into the hardware store and announces his need for a housemaid. Maud happens to be there, she shows a curiosity for this forthcoming man, and decides to walk to his home and apply for the job.

Her interest in being with him is one of the stories fascinating aspects. They begin an arrangement whereby when she is not obeying his demands, she’s decorating the interior of his abode with wall paintings. Soon she is framing her work and when its discovered by Sandra (Kari Matchett), she begins to sell them to a growing number of customers who learn of its reputation by word of mouth. Her style is known as Folk Art which is explained as having a naive style that doesn’t apply the correct proportions. They are quite pretty. 

The focus however is on the unpredictable interaction between Maud and Everett which keeps the film interesting and captivating. Their relationship begins as one-sided , abusive, and then slowly gains mutual respect. Directed by Aisling Walsh and written by Sherry White, it’s a romance that is very subtle.

Ethan Hawke and Sally Hawkins deeply inhabit these roles of Everett and Maud. The former is angry and withdrawn but draws forth a few questions that are left unanswered. Something may have drastically changed this man from a better time in his life. He’s abusive yet shows a capacity to care and pity. Hawkins take on Maudie is the more difficult task, a remarkable portrayal, evoking a fragile, hunchbacked physicality but with a quiet, resilient spirit. Her past is deeply troubled but doesn’t evidently affect her because she smiles, functions, create paintings, and maintains a tender heart. Their companionship is not warm on the surface as they disagree, sometimes to what seems to be the ending of their relationship. They push each other’s human nature to its limits. But this is a film with warm and touching scenes, some wonderful scenery, and it’s a moving experience.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

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★★★1/2

‘Homecoming’ does the inevitable and shifts the web slinger, a primary Marvel character, onto the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In the process, it reboots the spidey franchise for a second time and offers a third version of Peter Parker.  One observation of the transition is that Parker is slowly lightening up. If Tobey Maguire was shy and a bit spaced out and Andrew Garfield was mature, then here is Tom Holland who seems to be a fitting choice by simply acting as a pleasant teenager.  Who foresaw this?

I find this to be the best Spiderman movie to date. ‘Homecoming’ is a thoroughly entertaining popcorn film. It covers a lot of familiar narrative such as that Peter Parker is a high schooler dealing with awkwardness and learning how to speak with girls. He has a crush named Liz (Laura Harrier) who intimidates him and a best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) whom he plays Lego with.  But he’s also begun working for Tony Stark who discovered his abilities in a previous Captain America movie(Civil War) and has sent him an awesome hi-tech Spiderman suit. Starks instructions are for Parker to familiarize himself with the device and not indulge in any dangerous challenges. This gets him working the local neighborhood, doing heroics like stopping petty thieves when he’s not making clumsy mistakes such as apprehending a wrong suspect (The latter scene is followed by a group of neighbors who start yelling at Parker). Meanwhile, Starks bodyguard(Jon Favreau) checks on his progress from time to time.

Directed by Jon Watts, it comes from a screenplay by an extensive list including Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, and Erik Sommers. The activities in the first act give the film its busy momentum even before the main trouble begins. Spiderman decides to try a real challenge in the Vulture, a former demolition worker who is begrudged towards Stark industries for losing his contract. Like Stark, he has become an ingenious inventor, using metal debris to build a jet pack with wings and spinning rotors.  Using this contraption, the Vulture flies around to steal rare metals and sell them in the underground markets. Played by Michael Keaton, he is more of a thinker than just another intimidating villain.

Parker is ambitious to join the Avengers but is occasionally unsure of his reasons. Maybe due to a lack in confidence or because he is distracted by thoughts of joining for popularity-sake. And on the side, he deals with his teen troubles (he finds it difficult to approach Liz). And while this happens inside him, outside he is trying to be the spidey hero, and the stress begins to manifest itself to his Mom (Marisa Tomei) and Ned. Holland’s performance is an energetic persona, 100 percent into the part. The film benefits from him. And then finally, Robert Downey Jr. appears to give wise words like a mentor. Cliché perhaps, but I was unexpectedly moved by his role in the movie. So, there’s a boat that gets cut in half, an exciting truck chase, and a high rise rescue. But what raises the narrative further is how Parker’s inner self gets tested and that’s what i thought elevates this from being a good superhero film. 

The Beguiled (2017)

beguiled

★★★

Consider a beautiful shot of a dense forest and how light gets admitted and diffused through the thick shades of its oak trees.  Perhaps this imagery is a metaphor for The Beguiled, about how one man is taken into a solemn dwelling and makes his way through the shadowy depths of its inhabitant’s souls.

The story reveals the home to be a girl’s school in Virginia occupied by one teacher and five students. Considering that the accepted man is a soldier of the opposing states (Union) during the American Civil War, it’s unclear as to what the consequences would mean for the women, should they accept him and heal his wounds. It’s an intriguing situation, particularly because the soldier seems to be a well-meaning gentleman.

The film moves at a slow momentum, watching courteous relationships grow as it becomes evident that this man named John begins to attract one woman. To the other five, he maintains a gentleman poise, a politeness that engages their good opinions. The firm instructor and housekeeper Miss Martha, played by Nicole Kidman, constantly reminds John that he must leave as soon as his leg gets better, which was severely gashed. Yet she herself seems conflicted about him.

Directed by Sofia Coppola and from her screenplay, this is a film about the currents of tension, desire, and companionship. It’s about trust but also deceit. It has a bilious atmosphere in the lonely darkness of the women’s abode, softly lit by candles.  The cast are able to bring the required emotions and consequences to their parts. There is intensity between the characters of Kristen Durst and Colin Farrell  and a mutual respect between those of Kidman and Farrell (The former glances at him with obvious mistrust). And the other three women include impressive performances by Elle Fanning, Oona Laurence, and Angourie Rice.

I sometimes find characterizations by Colin Farrell to be slightly opaque. It’s fascinating. I’m not sure if it’s the acting style, which seems well suited for the stage, but Farrell’s contained energy seems abundant and when its used as emotions in a performance, it can come across as a bit too strong. He’s a good actor, however, in a sense like Gary Oldman we see more of a performance than a characterization well meshed into the story.  Here he plays a difficult role that must communicate with several women of different personalities. This is a story about a complex human situation stemming from hidden feelings. I was left unsure about the women’s nature by the end of the film but it got me interested in seeking the original 1971 movie it’s based on.

Blade Runner 2049

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★★★1/2

Here is a film with spectacular sights and powerful sounds. A glacier-paced momentum to assist in the visual experience, by slowly scanning over scenery and allowing viewers to be “taken” into its imaginary world. Such is the case with Blade Runner 2049, a sequel to 1982’s Blade Runner. It watches over an expanded vision of the crowded, futuristic night city in the original movie, and utilizes larger interiors and wider surrounding industrial landscapes. A tense electronic soundtrack underlines its bleakness.

However the movie is more than just about looks. The protagonist named K (Ryan Gosling) is an LAPD blade runner replicant who must ‘retire’ or deactivate the older replicants (robots made to look like humans but that function with much more strength and efficiency). K does this in a violent opening sequence that proves his ability on the job. But then he also makes a shocking discovery that stirs inner turmoil. Evidence that could reveal a world changing cover up. It’s a conflict related to K’s growing desire of becoming completely human. But with an oppressive police force and a dangerous security team against him, he is compelled to fight back alone.

A little bit of information on K reveals him as a robot in search for companionship. In his apartment, he romantically cares for an artificial intelligence in the form of a female hologram(Ana de Armas), treating her as if she were a real human. However to his female chief at work, he hides all emotion and only shows the obedience of a soldier. Then later, while dealing with the shocking discovery, K develops mixed emotions of empathy, anger, and betrayal. Even hope. Gosling gives a subtle performance of those feelings, when otherwise shown with a detached look in his eyes.

Apart from him, Harrison Ford is back from the original Blade Runner as Deckard, looking and behaving accordingly to his age plus evincing some serious issues of mistrust. Against K and him, is a formidable villain called Luv played by Sylvia Hoeks who is fascinating in the way Luv’s nature reveals herself. Less interesting though is her boss, Niander Wallace, CEO of a replicant manufacturer and a megalomaniac who is played with eccentricity by Jared Leto using a way of dialogue that I had a little trouble understanding. Had he acted more conventional, I suspect he would have been effective. However all around, I found them to be part of a great science fiction story dealing with secrets and revolutions. And underneath, is the theme of replicants in search of a better nature. They seek for freedom of humanity, to love and to care for one another. They seek for a soul. Directed by the highly regarded Denis Villeneuve, this is the first movie of his that I admire because it doesn’t let down from start to finish. I can’t say that the narrative is easy to follow, with all the handling of revelations and the distractions of scenery (magnificently shot by Roger Deakins). However I found this film to be a satisfying cinematic experience, in terms of special effects and story.

It (2017)

it

★★★

“It” is about a group of kids who team up to defeat a demon clown. I guess the movie is aimed for the younger crowd. However as based on a novel by Stephen King, it has the ideas and capacity to affect all viewers. It isn’t haunting like other screen adaptations such as Carrie or The Shinning. But it is a visually frightening, tense feature.

Directed by Andy Muschietti, and from a screenplay by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman, the narrative isn’t always fluid, as it tends to get chopped up into separate incidents for each character, and there are many of them. But the variety of events keeps the film moving forward, particularly as the clown becomes more threatening or challenging. 

The clown appears gradually, appearing to the kids one at a time in private settings and in increasingly fantastical forms. But these children have stories behind them. Each have experienced or are experiencing trauma that has left them angry or in grief. Parental issues stands out. The child actors (Wyatt Oleff, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Chosen Jacobs) are trying hard to act well, and they are effective. They spend many scenes together behaving like teenagers and sometimes arguing about whether they should battle “IT”, considering how it gains strength off their troubles and fears. There are some awful scenes each one topping the other in terms of shock. This is in part due to the Clowns behavior as portrayed by Bill Skarsgård, in an edgy unpredictable performance, and also because of the terrific special effects that convey nightmarish sensations. Plus there is a school bully (Nicholas Hamilton) who adds more terror to the situation. But through the characters experiences, friendships are forged, they get tougher, and when all is over, a stay-tune-for-the-sequel is being indicated. There is an old TV miniseries of IT which i have seen that showed the children as grown-ups facing the demon. Hopefully that story shall be the basis for the follow up to this acceptable jump scare of a movie.   

Brad’s Status

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★★★

This is a film about an anxious individual. Ben Stiller seems to be a good fit in the lead role, having played various forms of troubled characters in his comedies. But in this movie called Brad’s Status, he isn’t aiming for the big laughs because the film is a drama with faint humor.

The story is unclear in where it is headed for and that’s because of Brad (Ben Stiller), the confused lead character. His wish it seems, although he may not realize it yet, is to find inner peace. He drives out on a long trip with his teenage son Troy (Austin Abrams) to help him find a college. There are some interviews lined up at prestigious Universities. However after catching up with old friends along the way, Brad is unable to behave like an effective Dad. He’s basically got some personal issues of his own to deal with such as a dissatisfaction with his career, working for a non-profit organization.

Written and directed by Mike White, this is a film about many conversations, some more interesting than others. Those of Brad and his son are heartfelt, while those with his friends I found much more intriguing as his personal issues are slowly opened.

Basically he is a dreamer. Brad dreams wildly about being a wealthy entrepreneur and even imagines himself as a playboy. These thoughts visit him as he speaks with friends who are living those dreams if not more financially successful than he is. It’s a fear of not being held in the same perceived esteem as they are. As a result, he is unable to recognize the treatment towards others. How he begins to nudge Troy toward a particular school. How he relentlessly defends his career to a young woman, despite having no reason to do so. She admires him as he is. And how during a dinner with an old friend (Michael Sheen) he moves the conversation to an unforeseen, baffling direction. The performance by Ben Stiller is quite good as a very conflicted man. Austin Abrams, Jenna Fischer (as Brad’s wife), and Luke Wilson are also noteworthy in their roles particularly when they begin to find Brad unpleasant. I have never met anyone like Brad but I think this movie understands his condition whereby people compare others success stories with their own and grow anxious when they feel different.