War for the Planet of the Apes

If you are ready for some top-flight man on monkey violence, then War for the Planet of the Apes is the movie for you.   But it is so much more than that.   It is a nuanced exploration of racism, sexism, compassion, and possibly the greatest cinematic meditation on existential philosophy since The Seventh Seal.

Nah, I’m just kidding. It really just amounts to some good only man on monkey violence.  It’s not that the movie doesn’t try to do the things listed above, it just doesn’t do them very well.  The apes are generally set up in the “good camp” and the humans in the “bad camp” in this one, and we spend probably an hour of the movie literally watching the apes ape various stages of grief and angst and heartbreak while we wait around for the film to get to Woody Harrelson.

But, get to them they finally do, featuring one spectacular, borderline insane expository monologue that nearly saves the film along a number of fronts.  By the time they got around to the monologue, I had almost completely checked from the story, but he introduced enough material to bring the story back in play.  He is also able to almost — almost — blur the “good ape, bad man” line with his historic account, enough to give us a little sympathy for the human side.  Like the greats, he makes those around him better, so things that had been annoying me to that point got a little less annoying. But, alas, even the Hestonesque charismatic burst doesn’t save the film, and what we are left with is a few great pieces of film making in a movie that is pretty stupid and at least an hour too long (but do check out L’s review for a pro’s perspective on some of the legitimate cinematic achievements).

There are a couple of big plusses here.  Some of the action is great, including a super awesome wrinkle in the climactic scene.  Although I am kind of bashing on the movie here, even haters like me will take the drama seriously enough to enjoy the action in the context of the dramatic narrative, unlike action for action’s sake in, say, the Transformers or Alien v. Predator movies.  It’s probably worth mentioning again that Woody is must-see tv.  And, finally, this is one of the few movies where you can feel license to enjoy the fabulous Marcus 128 oz soda specials, because there are plenty of spaces between the pauses here to take a pit stop or two.

Over the $5 bar for some great action and for Woody, but I would have been willing to pay more for less for this one.

War for the Planet of the Apes (L)

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First of all, for the record, I love Woody Harrelson and could watch an entire feature film of him eating a salad. I’m not sure why it would take him an hour and a half to eat a salad but there you go. The movie Woody Salad I’m certain would have more unpredictable twists and turns than War for the Planet of the Apes. Big explosion at the end? Check. Not to pick on it, the last three films we have seen, Baby DriverSpiderman and Wonder Woman also end with big explosions. I think the screenwriters start all the movies with a massive explosion and reverse engineer a script from there.

This particular film could have undergone at least an hour of cutting. It has the scale, the sets, the score of Doctor Zhivago but without the story to prop it up for over 2 hours.

Personally, I did enjoy the film from a purely technical point of view. The apes themselves are a marvel. Not necessarily better than the original apes from Planet of the Apes in 1968, which garnered an honorary Academy Award for make-up artist John Chambers. Back then you could still tell who the actors were. You could see it was Roddy McDowall down there and that made it even better.  These days, it is more of a photorealistic effect, if you will. But it still works for me, it’s just different.

And then of course there is the aforementioned Woody, doing this wacky mix of an evil Michael Stipe meets Apocalypse Brando — and it works. His scenes form the apex of this film for me. If you are into this series, War for the Planet of the Apes is a must see but ultimately for the rest of us, popping in or streaming the original Planet of the Apes with McDowell, Heston and the Statue of Liberty would most likely be a more worthwhile experience.

Spider Man: Homecoming

Spider Man: Homecoming is really a special piece of film making, melding the chase-the- bad-guys-and-blow-stuff up action movie with the poignant teen adolescent drama to make for a really enjoyable experience.  We went in with high expectations, and we did not leave disappointed.  This is the sixth Spider Man movie in recent memory, and I will put it neck-and-neck with Spider Man 2 (the Doc Oc one) as the best of the lot.  Judging by the packed house and the generally enthusiastic audience response, this movie is going to make like a zillion dollars.

I was really feeling the adult-adolescent nexus portrayals here and, despite not being a superhero myself, found the Tony Stark grooming his protege angle quite compelling. At one point I leaned over to L and said, “I am really identifying with the authority figures here.”  In the front end of the movie, the adults generally didn’t know what was going on with the younger set, and mostly didn’t care, either.  Rather than Scooby Doo the whole thing, the plot suggests that this cuts both ways — in some cases the adults should be listening, but in others the kids really are meddling when they should be minding their own business.  Jon Favreau is occasionally funny as the mostly inept intermediary for the Spidey-Tony relationship.   Then, remarkably, the story spins this to illustrate that in many cases the kids don’t know what’s going on with the adults, either.  This makes for some excellent dramatic narrative and a couple genuine surprises, not something that is characteristic of superhero genre.

The adults here included many of the usual suspects, with Tony Stark and Iron Man being central characters throughout.  This is the first Spidey movie set squarely in the Marvel Universe on the heels of the Captain America: Civil War story trajectory.  One consequence of this is that the plot line involves Michael Keaton building a criminal enterprise on the back of repurposing alien technology left behind in that affair.   Keaton eventually shows himself as the Vulture, more than possibly a hat tip to his role in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), which is amusing for a number of reasons.  The Vulture isn’t particularly interesting, but the plot built around him is.  The story sets up and mostly moves along at a good clip, without pausing too much to show off.  A second consequence is that Spidey has access to a suit equipped with Stark technology, so the high-tech elements of the Iron Man series are pervasive within this new universe.   I had mixed feelings about the high-tech Spider Man, as most of it was done really well and is consistent with the technology frontiers in these other movies. On the other hand, c’mon, man!

Mostly for better, this movie does not begin with the genesis story and does not dwell on the guilt over Uncle Ben’s death that is so central to the other two Spider Man movie incarnations (and the comic books I remember from my youth).  As Fenwick would probably say, it’s been done.  The movie also strips Peter Parker of his solely internal struggles, as he inadvertently reveals to his buddy that he is Spider Man, so much of the movie involves the interplay with these two rather than Peter going it alone.  This revelation is probably one of the reasons why the writers were able to develop the adolescent characters and setting so well.  There is plenty to say about that, too, so the movie leaves us with a lot to chew on.

A couple other things, Marisa Tomei as Aunt May worked well, and she got at least one great line in (or most of it, at least).  Tyne Daly (Cagney or Lacey) shows up as a government security bigwig, which is nice, though her role is perfunctory.  And Michael Mando of Breaking Bad fame is evidently being groomed as the next super villain, and what’s not to like about that?

Overall, well above the $5 bar.  I found myself laughing out loud, including several times when I was the only one in the theater doing so.  At other points, the theater laughed whilst I nodded or maybe grinned.  There is definitely something for most of us.   I’m guessing I will see it again (and again and again on TNT).

The Beguiled

One of the problems with heading off to see a movie like The Beguiled is that you might not be exactly sure what “beguiled” means.  Well, let me assure you that 45 minutes into this one you will have a pretty good idea.

The film is set at a boarding school for girls in rural Virginia some time at the back end of the Civil War.  One of the girls is out picking mushrooms and she happens upon Colin Farrell under a willow tree with a badly wounded leg (Farrell has the wounded leg, not the willow tree).   She assists the blue-bellied Yankee back to the seminary, and what unfolds from there is pretty much what you might expect when Colin Farrell is introduced to a group of mostly sheltered females ranging in age from pre-pubescent to Nicole Kidman.  There are a couple of catches, of course.  Firstly, it’s 1860s Virginia, not Hollywood, so the hostesses are trying to maintain a level of decorum commensurate with Southern ladies.  Secondly, despite the masculine intrigue, they aren’t quite sure if the cad soldier will rape and murder them given the chance.

The film is beautifully shot, both the outdoor shots and the interior of the household.  Despite the expanse of the wilderness, there is a claustrophobic vibe running throughout, with themes of being locked in, what it means to be locked in, and the precarious nature of locks recurring again and again.   The vulnerability of a female seminary on the outskirts of a warzone is continuously reintroduced, vis a vis both the Yankee in their midst and the Rebels that happen by.  Ultimately, the movie explores many themes relating to communication, trust, friends and foes, and group behavior (among others) with startling levels of sexual tension and stark, brutal reality helping to set and re-set the background mood.  The state of beguility, it turns out, might just affect your perspective and behavior.

The acting is great, led by the amazing Nicole Kidman and almost equally amazing Kirsten Dunst, who may or may not be competing for the soldier’s affections. Kidman is certainly not sheltered in her role as the decisive head of the operation, and I think what is going on in her head makes for the toughest read in the movie.  In contrast, Elle Fanning is cast as just old enough to drop a handkerchief, and she is pretty much as transparent as they come.  I’m not sure who all those younger girls were, but they didn’t skip a beat, either.   And, Farrell is gorgeous in his role as the Dubliner mercenary, showing a range from sensitive to psychotic.  Director Sofia Coppola is pulling the strings here, and I continue to enjoy the films she is putting out.

This soars over the $5 bar and is pretty much as good a movie as you are likely to see in the theaters.  Big ups from the L&D crew.

L&D Picks for 2016

Here is our long-awaited (mostly by us) list of the top five movies of 2106, taken from the universe of movies viewed by both L & D in 2016.   The rankings are based on a proprietary L&D weighting formula that you can just bet Netflix would kill for.

And here we go:

6. (tie) The Girl on the Train:  *The Girl on the Train* was reminiscent of the great French New Wave Director Claude Chabrol who concerned himself with the police procedural, bourgeois family life in small towns and murder. It also crossed paths with the neurosis found in many of the female leads of Hitchcock’s films and with the idea of a society turned against the protagonist, also a mainstay of Hitchcockiana. Again, going in with low expectations, I thoroughly enjoyed this film and found the production values, cinematography, set and costume design, makeup, story, editing, acting, sound design and even score (by The Simpsons theme own Danny Elfman) to be above average if not under par. So why does this film not get the hype it deserves? Well dammit it should. Perhaps a better title would have been “Murder on the Hudson”.

6. (tie) The Arrival:  (Marketed outside the US as *The Giant Space Turd Movie*)  *The Arrival* revisits the standard alien romance drama with the strong female lead made famous by Jodie Foster in *Contact*, but without the benefit of Matthew McConaughey’s Matthew McConaugheyness. Only this time, it’s Amy Adams as the lead egghead, and she is pretty terrific. If you like aliens and you like romance, there is probably something for you here.

4.  Rogue One:  The last Star Wars movie was a greatest hits album and so of course people liked it, because, who doesn’t like the hits?  But *Rouge One* was the story I have been waiting for. Not to mention I am a big Diego Luna fan. His company produced a film I worked on in Mexico called Voy a Explotar. I was fortunate enough to meet him on a rooftop in Guanajuato during production. Great guy and actor. One of my favorite films of his is called Rudo y Cursi, a fútbol comedy well worth watching. But hey, you are here to read about *Rouge One*. Yes, I knew the ending but I still enjoyed the ride getting there. And basically I enjoyed everything about it. We watched in 3D and to be honest, I can’t tell the difference. But is it because it’s so good? If it’s working, it’s working in a subtle way and maybe that’s for the best. Except for the credits. Credits in 3D are always amazing. (L)

3.  Snowden:  Oliver Stone hit it out of the park. This film could easily have been a geeky dud, filled with computer screens and talking heads but it was a classic Hollywood film wrapped around a social document told in an arresting, cinematic way. Not to mention fantastic, measured performances including Nicholas Cage. It was impressive. Everyone who watches this film will get something worthwhile out of it.

1.   (tie)  Hell or High Water:  *Hell or High Water* delivers on its promise to be the best modern western since *No Country for Old Men*. Ben Foster deserves leading-man credit for keeping his usual psychotic character under wraps to let the movie happen around him. Jeff Bridges reprises his role of Rooster Coburn as the surly,aging lawman, though he too is a little more reserved in this role. Chris Pine is a better Captain Kirk than sad sack, and is too good looking to be terribly convincing, but he does alright. We haven’t seen this all before, but it seems like we’ve seen most of this before. Nonetheless, there are a few surprises, and the compelling plot and characters, along with some reasonable action sequences and a number of provocative thematic elements, mask some of the weak links of the story line. Of particularly interest is the Evangelical Christian Native American Texas Ranger, who didn’t deal well with Bridges’ many ethnic slurs. This is definitely one of the best couple movies we’ve seen this year.

1.   (tie)  Deadpool   With action sequences targeting 15-year old boys and jokes targeting 40-something men, it’s probably no big surprise that it was a hit with the L&D crowd.  If you like the opening sequence, you’ll probably love the rest.

lnd

Our thank yous to the Marcus Valley Cinema for $5 Tuesday and $5 student Thursday nights, which made this all possible.

See you Tuesday on the barcalounger!