I’m entering the home stretch of my journey back through the Planet of the Apes film, as I’ve just taken in the fourth installment: Conquest of the Planet of the Apes! Click here for my thoughts on Planet of the Apes, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, and Escape From the Planet of the Apes.
After the silliness of Escape From the Planet of the Apes, this fourth Apes film shifts back into serious mode. VERY serious. Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is, I think, by far the most grim and down-beat of all five original Apes films.
Which is not to say it isn’t also chock full of silly and ridiculous things. Like the incident, at the start of the film, which sets the whole movie’s events in motion. Kindly Armando (Ricardo Montalban) has secretly been raising Milo (who has choosen the name Caesar), the child of Cornelius and Zira. All is well. That is, until Armando decides, for no reason that I can fathom, to take Caesar right into the middle of a large human city. Here, we see that in the years since the last film, mankind has begun to domesticate and enslave apes, forcing them to serve a servants and menial laborers. Caesar is, of course, horrified by what he sees. He promptly stirs up trouble, and finds himself on the run while Armando is arrested. But why oh why did Armando take him on his little tour of the big city filled with enslaved apes, in the first place??? It boggles my mind.
Anyways, after a lengthy opening sequence that shows us all the horrible things the humans are doing to the apes, we follow Caesar as he finds himself mistaken for an ordinary ape and treated just like all the others. But Caesar quickly gains control of the situation, and begins fomenting a revolution of all the apes, urging them to rise up and overthrow their human masters.
The film ends with a lengthy, violent sequence as we witness the fateful night that Caesar leads the apes in their successful revolution. It’s a pretty shocking climax to the film. The movie doesn’t pull any punches in depicting both the vast number of apes who are killed by the fearful humans, as well as the way many humans are brutally murdered by the throngs of rampaging apes. We’re a long way from the scenes of Apes going shopping and sipping grape-juice plus in Escape From the Planet of the Apes! All of these films have had tragic endings, but I think this ending is the most brutal one of the whole series.
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is … [continued]
And so we come to it at last, the final piece in the puzzle before next summer’s unprecedented super-hero cross-over movie, The Avengers. There was Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, and Thor, and now we have Captain America: The First Avenger. Captain America is overly simplistic and a little corny at times, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t a rollicking good time in a movie theatre.
As with all of the Marvel Studios films so far, the film sets itself up for success with its impeccable casting. Chris Evans was the best thing about the terrible Fantastic Four movies, and he’s found an even better role here in that of Steve Rogers/Captain America. He absolutely looks the part, and more importantly than that he’s able to sell Steve Rogers’ aw-shucks good-hearted nature without coming off as silly. He’s an un-ironic heroic lead, and I found his honest, open-faced portrayal to be quite compelling. This performance is assisted by some wonderful CGI effects that create the 90-pound weakling version of Steve Rogers that we see in the first act. This isn’t The Curious Case of Benjamin Button style photo-realism, not by any stretch. But the effects are convincing, and after a few moments I really did stop thinking about the visual effects and just accepted skinny-Steve as a fully-realized character. It’s a terrific achievement in effects.
Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings) creates yet another iconic villain in the role of Johann Schmidt, The Red Skull. Putting on what sounded to me like his best impersonation of Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds, Mr. Weaving chews a lot of scenery but never tips over the edge into camp. The Red Skull is a big, bad, totally EVIL comic-book villain, and I thought he was just terrific. (Possibly the best bad-guy in a Marvel Studios film so far.) I loved the look of his make-up effects, and I was pleased that once his fleshy mask comes off, it stays off for the rest of the film.
I was surprised at how large a role Tommy Lee Jones has in the film. I thought this would just be a cameo, but his Colonel Phillips becomes a key character throughout the film, and Jones just kills. He gets many of the film’s best lines, and his gruff, warm presence is a delight. Most of the rest of the film’s best lines go to Stanley Tucci as Dr. Abraham Erskine, the inventor of the super-soldier serum that transforms Steve Rogers into Captain America. This was another surprise for me, and I appreciated that we really got to know Dr. Erskine in the film’s first … [continued]
I’ve made this comment in my last several Harry Potter film reviews, but it bears repeating one final time: what an astounding achievement it is, that this eight-film series has made it all the way to the end with the same ensemble of actors all the way through (save for the late Richard Harris). And, even more than that, what an amazing stroke of luck it is that every single one of the young child-actors who appeared in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone has grown into such a marvelous actor in his or her own right.
Though perhaps it’s not luck at all. Though Chris Columbus’ two installments (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) are by far my least favorite films of the series, the man clearly deserves ENORMOUS credit for his great skill at casting. The strength of the ensemble he assembled for those first two films has enabled this series to blossom in ways I never could have predicted when walking out of the theatre after seeing that first movie. It’s a pretty unprecedented achievement.
Somehow I have watched the entire story of Harry Potter on film without having read any of the books (save for the first one, which I read the day before seeing the first film). Heresy, I know! But nothing in the first three movies made me want to read the books, and when I really started digging the film series during movie four (which was the first Harry Potter film that I really liked) and movie five (which still stands as my very favorite of the films), I figured that, at that point, I preferred to continue discovering the story through the films. (Now that I have made it through to the end, I’m sure I will some day soon read through all seven of the books.) But, for now, as in the past, I will report my comments on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II as someone taking in the film, and the film alone (rather than drawing a comparison to the novel).
I have written before, on this blog, when contemplating the end of long-running television shows, just how difficult it is to craft a satisfactory ending to a long-form story. From everyone I know who has read the books, it seems that J.K. Rowling accomplished this feat when writing the seventh and final book, and I am pleased to report that the makers of this eight and final film have done the same.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II is an exciting, emotional ride from start to finish, and I felt it provided a wonderful … [continued]
My friend Rabbi Ethan Linden has written a wonderful article on his blog about HBO’s recently-concluded Game of Thrones mini-series (which I LOVED) and some broader thoughts about the fantasy and sci-fi genres. Here’s an excerpt:
People love to make fun of the superhero comic book genre, the fantasy genre, and the science fiction genre, both in movies and in books. This is unfortunate, because all three of these types of fiction provide some the most fertile ground for the creation of words that, though different from our own in important ways, nonetheless allow us to reflect on the realities of our customs, cultures and institutions. For some reason, these three genres are often considered to be “nerdy” or “dorky” and the typical mainstream reviewed will often make a snide remark about the intended audience for these types of fictions before launching into a review of the actual material in front of them. (Take a look at this New York Times review of the TV series for a prime example.) That these genres are taken seriously is a shame, because great fantasy, science fiction and superhero stories can be among the best ways we have of thinking deeply about who we are.
This is a superlative article, over at Hitfix.com, listing 25 Movie Sequels That Hollywood Should Have Made. The list is spot-on, with excellent choices both common (Serenity) and obscure (Devil With a Blue Dress). Warning: reading this will make you a little sad that sequels to these films do not exist, while X-Men Origins: Wolverine does.
Check out this great new trailer for the adaptation of John Le Carre’s novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Looks phenomenal.
Speaking of trailers, Steven Spielberg has finally released a new film, his first since Munich in 2005! (What’s that, you say? He directed an Indiana Jones film in 2008? No, no, you’re wrong, there’s no way Mr. Spielberg could have had anything to do with that train-wreck.) Anyways, take a look at the trailer for War Horse.
Cars 2 didn’t really interest me, but I’m looking forward to the next Pixar film: Brave.
Here’s a look at the latest Mission Impossible film: Ghost Protocol. None of the first three Mission Impossible films have been as great as I’ve wanted them to be, but I’ve enjoyed them all, so I’d be excited for this fourth installment even if it wasn’t Brad Bird (The Incredibles, The Iron Giant)’s live-action directorial debut.
Here at last is our first teaser trailer for John Carter (Of Mars). Is it possible this is going to be good? … [continued]
My epic project to re-watch all of the Planet of the Apes films continues! Click here for my thoughts on Planet of the Apes, and here for my thoughts on Beneath the Planet of the Apes.
The end of Beneath the Planet of the Apes seemed t0 definitively eliminate the possibility of any further sequels. (SPOILER ALERT!) The main characters had all been killed, and in fact the entire planet had been destroyed! How could there possibly be any further Planet of the Apes stories?
Well, Escape From the Planet of the Apes presents us with the rather silly notion that Cornelius and Zira (once again played by Roddy McDowell and Kim Hunter) along with a third ape, Dr. Milo (whose name you shouldn’t bother remembering since this hapless red-shirted third member of the team quickly meets an unfortunate end), had escaped the destruction of the planet because, in the couple of hours in which they were separated from Brent and Nova, they apparently found Brent’s crashed space-ship, repaired it, and then launched it into orbit! So they weren’t actually ON the Planet of the Apes when everything went BOOM at the end of the last movie! I can suspend my disbelief enough to enjoy a movie about talking Apes, but this rather ridiculous, desperate attempt to salvage some familiar characters from the previous films is absolutely laughable.
But then again, so is much of Escape From the Planet of the Apes. (Sometimes intentionally so, sometimes not.) In my mind, this third installment is by far the weakest of the series. The vast majority of the film’s story is played for laughs. Instead of the life-and-death, fate-of-the-world struggles of the first two films, this movie spends most of its run-time telling a fish-out-of-water comedy story about Cornelius and Zira, two hyper-intelligent talking apes from the future, learning about 20th century society (from our shopping malls to our “grape juice plus”).
Chairman: “Does the other one talk?” Cornelius: “Only when she lets me.”
It’s sort of as if the makers of the film series decided that they’d have better luck making an Apes movie for kids. Except that just like Beneath the Planet of the Apes seemed designed to continue the franchise without Charlton Heston’s participation by introducing the new lead character of Brent, right up until the final five minutes turns unremittingly bleak and Brent is shot dead right on screen, so too does Escape From the Planet of the Apes take a decidedly tragic, not-at-all-for-kids left turn in the final minutes as (SPOILER ALERT!) Cornelius and Zira are hunted down by a distrustful military and brutally murdered! Once again, I must grudgingly admire the crazy gall of … [continued]
I can’t help it. I really love The Transformers. As a kid, I loved the cartoon show, I loved the toys, I loved the crazy-dark animated movie, I loved Marvel Comic’s comic book series, I loved it all. And that’s why, even after suffering through the abysmal Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (click here for my review — and in hindsight, I went VERY easy on that terrible film), I bought a ticket to see Michael Bay’s latest installment, the woefully titled Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
This third film isn’t nearly as terrible as Revenge of the Fallen, but since Revenge of the Fallen was one of the worst movies I have ever seen, that’s not saying much.
Somewhere, buried deep within Transformers: Dark of the Moon, is a good movie. That would be a movie about the Autobots miraculously discovering their original leader, Optimus Prime’s mentor Sentinel Prime, alive and well. But they’d gradually discover that their once-great leader had become broken by the long millennia of bitter war with the Decepticons, and that his discovery would lead to a terrible betrayal which would decimate the Autobot ranks and leave Earth helpless before a Decepticon invasion. In the rubble of a shattered planet, a brave few Autobots and their human allies would fight desperately for some way to turn the tide and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
That would be a pretty damn good movie, I think! That story, accompanied by Michael Bay’s clear mastery of constructing action sequences, plus the technical wizardry of the ILM craftsmen who can bring living, talking, Transforming robots to breathtaking life, could be the elements that would combine to form a powerfully entertaining piece of summer popcorn entertainment.
Sadly, Transformers: Dark of the Moon is not that movie.
First of all, Michael Bay and his writers (this time the script is credited to Ehren Kruger) seem relentlessly unwilling to allow any of the actual Transformers to be the main characters in the movie. That was sort of understandable in the first film, in which it made sense to allow the audience to discover these crazy, outlandish characters (big talking robots who transform into planes, cars, etc.) through the eyes of a human “everyman” audience surrogate character. But here in the third movie, every time I found myself watching scenes of Spike Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) trying to get a job, or bickering with his parents, or engaging in ridiculous physical “comedy” (and I use the term loosely) with Ken Jeong, I found myself desperate for the movie to cut back to the robots, already!
We do actually get to spend a bit more time with … [continued]
Last week I began my project to re-watch all five original Planet of the Apes movies by re-watching the original Planet of the Apes from 1967. Today, we move to discuss the first sequel: 1969′s Beneath the Planet of the Apes.
For whatever reason, Charlton Heston only participates in this sequel in a very limited role. We see him in reused footage from Planet of the Apes at the start of the film, and in a handful of new shots, and then not again until the end of the film. But somehow, shockingly, I don’t find myself missing him all that much.
In Chuck’s place, we meet a new protagonist: Brent (played by James Franciscus). Brent is pretty much the exact same character as Taylor. He’s a human from modern time who was catapulted through time and space to crash land on the Planet of the Apes. (The film postulates that he was sent on a rescue mission to find Taylor and his crew, who never returned home. But the first film told us that, due to the time dilation effects of space-travel, Taylor and his team weren’t supposed to have returned to Earth until 700 years after they left! So I’m not quite sure when/why a rescue mission would have been sent after them, but whatever…) Brent even LOOKS like a dead ringer for Taylor! This is the type of thing that would usually have me groaning in agony at the stupidity of it all, but somehow when I watch this film I always find myself liking Brent — in many ways, even more than Taylor. Mr. Franciscus’ performance has none of the scene-chewing histrionics that made Mr. Heston’s work in the original film so memorable, but in some respects that actually helps the story. Brent seems like a much nicer fellow than Taylor, and he certainly acts more like one would imagine an astronaut would. Mr. Franciscus isn’t a BIG STAR like Mr. Heston, but he does a fine job carrying the film’s story on his shoulders.
Beneath the Planet of the Apes expands on the world of the first film by playing up the differences between the different types of apes: the conservative, political-minded Orangatuns, the weaker, scientifically-focused Chimpanzees, and the war-like Gorillas. I find this concept intriguing and it allows for a hint of the social commentary that was such a primary aspect of the first film’s narrative, though the idea that there are just three ape personality types is rather simplistic.
And, anyways, this installment — with its radioactive mutants and their perilous forbidden zone — is clearly far more of a pulp adventure than the first film. Oh, yes, there are … [continued]
Well, we’ve had two very solid super-hero films so far this summer, Thor (click here for my review) and X-Men: First Class (click here for my review), and while neither were quite as perfect as I might have hoped, I found both to be very solidly entertaining films. But with Green Lantern, sadly, we have our first big super-hero swing-and-a-miss of the summer.
Green Lantern isn’t terrible, and there are certainly a lot of things that work in the film. But it’s very, very mediocre, and it’s painful to see the potential for a much better film that was squandered.
What works? The film is, for the most part, well-cast. Ryan Reynolds does a fine job as Hal Jordan. He certainly looks the part, and there are moments (such as his desperate, through-gritted-teeth declaration of the Green Lantern oath late in the film) that really made me believe in him as Green Lantern. The voice actors chosen to portray the alien members of the GL Corps (most notably Geoffrey Rush as Tomar Re and Michael Clarke Duncan as Killowog) are spot-on, and Mark Strong is absolute perfection as Sinestro.
But all are completely wasted in the film! Let’s begin with Hal Jordan, who is barely a character. The film wants him to be Tony Stark from Iron Man (the self-centered asshole with incredible abilities who eventually learns to see beyond himself and his own ego to become a hero), but his character arc is so barely sketched in as to be laughable. It all seemed very predictable and perfunctory to me. I never felt that we really got to know Hal Jordan at all — who he is and why he behaves the way he does. (And, no, the painfully on-the-nose flashback during Hal’s test flight at the start of the film didn’t do it for me. That sequence seemed right out of Airplane!, and that’s not a good thing!) When he stepped into the role of a hero, it didn’t feel earned the way that Tony Stark’s transition did in the first Iron Man film.
Speaking of Iron Man, the whole vibe of Green Lantern felt totally derivative of that film. The movie desperately wanted to be hip and cool while also telling a fairly earnest super-hero story, just like the first Iron Man, but Green Lantern was never able to find that tone.
I had thought, from the trailers, that Green Lantern was going to be a cosmic adventure film. That the film opens in space, and keeps cutting back to events taking place in space (rather than starting with human Hal Jordan and staying with him until he discovered Abin … [continued]
In 1998, HBO aired From the Earth to the Moon, a twelve-part mini-series produced by Tom Hanks, Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, and Michael Bostick. The series chronicled the Apollo program, the massive American space-flight initiative that ran from 1961-1975 and which resulted in the first human being landing on the moon.
I am a nut for all things related to space-travel, so I eagerly devoured From the Earth to the Moon when it originally aired. I have re-watched the series all the way through several times in the intervening years, and most recently re-watched it with my wife last month (who had never seen it before). Although the series has nowhere near the intensity of Tom Hanks’ later HBO historical mini-series Band of Brothers and The Pacific, it still holds up as a phenomenal work of television, electrifying and informative.
What’s fun about the mini-series is that each episode has it’s own style and rhythms. Obviously there is continuity from one episode to the next, as the stories have to fit together chronologically to tell the story of the developing Apollo program. But each episode was written and directed by different individuals, and the creative team clearly took great pains to give each hour its own specific feel. The first episode, for instance, titled “Can We Do This?” (which has to cover a lot of ground in setting up the story and summarizing the entire Mercury program — which was the focus of the superlative film The Right Stuff) is separated into a series of individually titled chapters — basically little vignettes that together paint a larger picture. The third episode, “We Have Cleared the Tower,” is presented as the work of a documentary crew which was filming the preparations for the Apollo 7 mission. Episode 5, “Spider,” (one of my favorite episodes of the mini-series) shifts the focus to the incredible amount of work done by all of the designers and engineers who constructed the lunar module. Episode 10, “Galileo was Right,” focuses on all of the archaeological work that the astronauts had to accomplish (and the extraordinary amount of prep work that they needed to put in in order to do so). These are just a few examples. It’s a very clever strategy, as it keeps each episode fresh and new for the viewer.
There are a lot of visual effects throughout the series, and for the most part the quality is high. There are several sequences of space-flight and Earth orbit that are very beautiful. But this area is where the seams of this 1998 production show a bit. I’m sure that today’s technology would have allowed for the creation of far more elaborate special effects. … [continued]
Is it possible that Captain America: The First Avenger is going to be as awesome as this trailer makes it seem?
I’m really digging the Raiders of the Lost Ark style Nazi-stompin’ vibe. Will the actual film be as good as I hope? We’ll find out in a few short weeks!… [continued]
I am a big, big fan of the original five Planet of the Apes films (released between 1967 and 1973). They’re so marvelously ambitious and earnest and, at the same time, so laughably silly, that I’ve always held a great fondness for the series. While all four sequels represent a steep drop in quality from the original Charlton Heston-starring film, the sequels go in such bizarre, unexpected directions, and they’re so filled with their own charmingly quirky touches, that I find an enormous amount to enjoy in all of them. (I am not afraid to admit, gentle reader, that my enjoyment of all five of these films is assisted, and sometimes enhanced by, the consumption of generous quantities of grape-juice-plus while watching them.) With the I-can’t-believe-it’s-really-happening arrival of a new Planet of the Apes film this summer (the ridiculously titled — and that’s saying something for this film series — Rise of the Planet of the Apes, starring James Franco), it seemed a suitable excuse to go back and revisit the five original films. (I might re-watch Tim Burton’s 2001 Apes film — which I’ve only seen one time — as well, I haven’t decided yet.)
So let’s begin with the first and the best: the original Planet of the Apes from 1967. Charlton Heston plays Taylor (not sure if that’s his first or last name), an astronaut who leads a deep-space mission that goes terribly awry — their ship is knocked off-course and crash-lands on a planet where Apes are the dominant species and humans are just mute savages and slaves. (“It’s a madhouse!”) Heston’s comrades quickly meet unfortunate ends, but Taylor himself befriends two brilliant and inquisitive chimpanzees: Zira (played by Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (Roddy McDowell). He also befriends (if that’s what they’re calling it these days — wakka wakka!) a beautiful human girl (played by Linda Harrison) whom he decides to name Nova. When Taylor’s ability to speak is discovered, he is put on trial by the incredulous ape leaders (including Dr. Zaius, played by Maurice Evans) who cannot believe that a human is capable of speaking the way apes can. Taylor is eventually freed, and despite Dr. Zaius’ warning (“Don’t look for it, Taylor! You may not like what you find.”) sets out into the “Forbidden Zone” in order to discover how it came to be that apes took over the planet. What he discovers brings him to his knees, and has become an indelible image in our pop-culture ever since. Just in case you didn’t know the surprise ending of the film, it’s spoiled on the DVD box cover art. (And just in case you missed it on the front cover, the image … [continued]
I’m only three films into my year-long (if not longer) project to revisit all 22 James Bond films, and I’ve already arrived at my very favorite Bond movies, and one of my very favorite films of all-time: Goldfinger.
The film: The greatness of Goldfinger lies in how the film contains everything that is iconic and wonderful about the Bond series, side-by-side with moments that are outrageously jaw-droppingly dated and unintentionally hilarious. The film features an incredible theme song; gorgeous, ridiculously-named women; a compelling villain; a menacing henchman; an Aston Martin, gadgets, deathtraps, and great action. The film lives and breathes a tone of “cool” — that unique 1960′s vibe and the allure of a hero who is never without a quip, a fancy drink, and a three-piece suit. The script is fast-paced and very witty, stuffed-full of very funny bon mot. Then, of course, there are the moments that are astoundingly out of date and quite unintentionally laughable: Bond’s casual sexism (never more on display than in this film), weak special effects, and, of course, that terry-cloth robe. But rather than hurting my enjoyment of the film, there’s something so innocent about those flaws that they actually enhance my enjoyment! I can enjoy myself just as much laughing at something the filmmakers wanted the audience to laugh about (like Felix’s good-natured resignation at how his friend James can always be found preoccupied by “a drink or a dame”) as I can laughing at those moments that were definitely NOT intended to be funny (like the over-the-top miming done by the actors playing the hoods as they’re being gassed by Goldfinger). There’s literally not a single moment in Goldfinger that I don’t love.
The opening/The music: This is the first time that a Bond film began with an opening sequence that had absolutely nothing to do with the main plot of the film. It’s basically just a fun action set-piece designed to draw the audience into the film. (This would become a common device used by a majority of the Bond films to follow.) Even though I’ve seen Goldfinger countless times, I often still forget just how jam-packed the opening sequence is with iconic, often imitated moments. There’s the scene in which Bond pulls off his wet-suit to reveal a perfectly pressed white tuxedo underneath (mimicked by Arnold Schwarzenegger in True Lies), or the moment when Bond sees an attacker reflected in the eyes of the woman he’s kissing (imitated in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery). There’s a great fight scene (my wife felt sorry for the girl, when Bond uses her as a shield against the attacking thug, but I always thought the implication was that