Talking Movies

July 11, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes 3-D

Andy Serkis, via motion capture, returns one last time for more monkey business as Caesar, the Moses of intelligent apes.

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Caesar is in the woods, with his apes, and just wants to be left alone; to brood over his murder of rival Koba (Toby Kebbell), and raise his new young son. But not only have Koba’s followers started to collaborate with the humans against Caesar in order to avenge his death, the humans have also become menacingly organised under a new leader, the Colonel (Woody Harrelson). An early bloody skirmish is followed by a night raid with the Colonel himself attempting to terminate Caesar’s command, with extreme prejudice. Caesar abdicates his duties as leader, vowing revenge. While the apes set out for the promised land beyond the desert, Caesar, with trusted lieutenant Maurice the orangutan (Karin Konoval), and two gorilla bodyguards, sets out to assassinate the Colonel. But matters are complicated by a new mutation of the virus assailing humanity.

War for the Planet of the Apes would be more accurately titled Commando Raids for the Planet of the Apes. Indeed a large portion of the movie is Prison Break for the Planet of the Apes, cycling back to the pivotal sequence of 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes where super-intelligent Caesar was incarcerated with regular chimpanzees – because he chewed off a man’s fingers for being rude. Blake Snyder’s ‘Save the Cat’ does not advocate having your hero chew off a man’s fingers for being rude to elicit audience sympathy, quite the opposite really. Yet we are expected to automatically root for Caesar through three films progressively less interested in human characters. If one could call the ciphers in this franchise human. This is surely the worst written trilogy this decade, and logically so; if an audience accepts ciphers, why bother sweating writing characters? If an audience accepts Gary Oldman’s noble sacrifice to save humanity resulting in nothing, why bother even setting up protagonist and antagonist humans? Woody Harrelson’s Colonel McCullough is the only articulate human, and even Harrelson can’t excel with this straw man antagonist. Hard to credit this franchise was spawned by Rod Serling’s mischievous screenplay.

Rupert Wyatt in Rise, and Matt Reeves in Dawn, both threw in striking sequences of directorial bravura to try and paper over the poor scripting. But here, there is nothing going on in that department, which is a tremendous surprise given that Reeves returns as director. Where are his visual trademarks – the lengthy tracking shots following chaos exploding into frame, the fixed-position sequences, the Hitchcockian visual suspense? This is all the more surprising given the unsubtle references to the visually extravagant Apocalypse Now: slogans daubed everywhere, a shaven-headed Colonel expounding on history, culture and morality, a mission to exterminate (‘The only good Kong is a dead Kong’), Jimi Hendrix, and, just in case you didn’t get it, ‘Ape-pocalypse Now’ graffiti. It’s as if Reeves has just given up, going through the motions in a permanently 3-D darkened landscape of snow and concrete that renders things verily sepia-vision. Steve Zahn as a nebbish ape is a highlight, mostly because, when dressed akin to Bob Balaban’s Moonrise Kingdom narrator, he appears to have wandered in from Wes Anderson’s Planet of the Apes; the idea of which is more entertaining than this tedious movie, dragged out by its insistence on ape sign language.

The powerful and emotive finale is unintentionally hilarious when you realise just how literal the Caesar as Moses motif is being taken, but it’s just one final plodding mis-step. Caesar blows up the Colonel’s base and yet escapes the fiery blastwave because it is all-encompassing but apparently all to one side just to avoid enveloping him, Caesar’s final confrontation with the Colonel sees him extend a character redeeming mercy that looks uncannily like the height of cruelty, and the new mutation of the virus, which reduces humans to mute amiable simpletons, leads us seamlessly into the world of the Charlton Heston classic. So, we are required to cheer for the devolution of the human race into mute amiable simpletons, and yet that isn’t presented as a somewhat challenging proposition when even 2008’s disastrous The Invasion noted the paradox of rooting for free will at the cost of world peace. To reference another 1979 film that’s been in the air this summer Caesar’s story involves us losing the ability to produce another Groucho Marx, Willie Mays, Louis Armstrong, Ingmar Bergman, Gustave Flaubert, Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Paul Cezanne or even understand who they were or appreciate what they did. Hail, Caesar?

0.5/5

July 31, 2013

RED 2

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Bruce Willis and John Malkovich return for a second knowing outing as the retired and extremely dangerous spies who just want to be left alone.
 
Frank (Willis) is trying to play house with girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), but a trip to Costco sees Marvin (Malkovich) warning him that they’re in terrible danger because someone is sniffing around their botched Cold War Op codenamed Nightshade. And sure enough before long MI6 doyenne Victoria (Helen Mirren) cheerfully informs them she’s been hired to kill them, they’re running from a well-resourced bent spook Horton (Neal McDonough), and they’re also running from his employee – the world’s greatest assassin Han (Byung Hun Lee), who has a personal grudge against Frank. And that’s before Frank and Sarah’s relationship is strained to breaking point by Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones), his Russian agent Ex, appearing. Can Frank and Marvin get their hands on Nightshade’s weaponry before it gets them killed? And what role does mad Professor Edward Bailey (Anthony Hopkins) play in all this?
 
RED 2 is a fun caper that works best when it’s at its most absurd. Too often director Dean Parisot is content to merely insert Mirren into daft scenarios and watch the audience smile rather than forcing us to laugh with good gags. But when the gags are forthcoming they’re good. There are a couple of terrific back and forth scenes between Frank and Sarah, and a Zen disagreement between Frank, Marvin and Han. There is also a daft sequence in the Kremlin where Marvin attempts to leave Sarah in charge of guarding a vault while he does spy stuff with Frank that is priceless. Parisot also stages a car chase thru Paris with elan and wit as he never loses focus on the chase’s real interest: it’s another example of ‘helpful’ intervention by Marvin in Frank and Sarah’s relationship.
 
Willis and Parker continue to be an appealingly believable couple, well, ‘believable’, and Malkovich Fassbenders his way thru proceedings. There is, however, a reason that scriptwriters Jon & Erich Hoeber’s previous work Battleship was instanced in the recent Slate article decrying the baneful effect of Blake Snyder’s scriptwriting book Save the Cat! becoming the literal playbook for all Hollywood blockbusters. You can see all 15 of Snyder’s story beats arriving at the appropriate moments here, including the inevitable and infuriating ‘apparent victory’ – whose ruthless application in The Avengers, Skyfall, Gangster Squad, et al is driving us all slowly crazy. But thankfully, unlike Battleship, there’s enough stupid fun here to counteract the formula. Especially as the ‘thematic statement’ from Marvin to Frank is so wonderfully dumb in concept and wording that its resolution can’t help but be a knowingly parodic moment.
 
There’s life in the old dogs yet, and while this probably won’t run as long as the Fast & Furious franchise it deserves to match Ocean’s with a trilogy.
 
3/5

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