\

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

I hope you enjoyed my look back at my Favorite Episodes of TV of 2017!  And now, let’s turn to my Favorite Movies of 2017

As always, there were far more great movies released this year than I had time to see.  Movies that looked great but that I missed include: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Get Out, Phantom Thread, Darkest Hour, I Tonya, Wind River, Logan Lucky, Professor Marsten and the Wonder Women, The Lost City of Z, Downsizing, Atomic Blonde, and many more.  So if you’re wondering why any of those movies aren’t on my list, now you know.

Before we begin, I should start by mentioning two incredible 2016 movies that I saw in January 2017, after I had already written my Best Movies of 2016 list:  Lion and Moonlight.  Moonlight, in particular, is a masterpiece that surely would have been in my TOP FIVE of 2016 had I seen it in time.

And now, without any further delay, let’s dive into my list of my Favorite Movies of 2017:

Honorable Mention: Logan Hugh Jackman’s swan song as Wolverine brought a satsifying close to his nearly two decades playing the character.  Throwing aside the usual look and feel of a superhero movie, director James Mangold chose instead to make a dark, grim R-rated drama that shocked me with its intensity and its violence.  I loved their choices in making a very different kind of X-Men film, one with no colorful costumes or grandiose musical themes.  This is a drama focused tightly on its characters, and both Hugh Jackman as Logan and Patrick Stewart as Professor X (in which will also likely be his final appearance in the role) give what is probably their very best performances as these characters.  Long-running series rarely get a definitive ending; when one comes, as it did here, it is very special.  (Click here for my full review.)

20. Battle of the Sexes This story of Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs’ 1973 tennis match is an enjoyable, beautifully-made recreation of the dramatic events surrounding this televised battle of the genders.  It is also a riveting, very much of this specific time and place film that has a lot to say about equality today.  I was pleasantly surprised that Battle of the Sexes was as much about the struggles of gays and lesbians to live open, free lives as it was about female liberation and the struggle for equality between the sexes.  Both Emma Stone and Steve Carrell are terrific, wonderfully portraying these famous people while also bringing true life to their performances, rather than just giving a robotic act of recreation.  I wasn’t expecting … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews Star Wars: The Last Jedi!

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, written and directed by Rian Johnson, is not at all the film that I expected it to be.  It is very different from The Force Awakens, but a satisfying continuation of the story that film began.  The film is exciting, suspenseful, and emotional.  It is funny and it is heartbreaking.  It is weird and not afraid to take narrative digressions or even just a split-second moment to explore around the edges of this vast, wonderful Star Wars universe.  It is visually gorgeous, brought to life by some of the very best special effects you can hope to see.  It digs deep into Star Wars lore and connects to some of the most beloved moments of this saga, while also being unafraid to chart new courses and introduce new characters, worlds, and situations.  It is also too long, with a middle section that sags dreadfully.  But its third act is magnificent in a way that allows almost all sins to be forgiven.  The Last Jedi is not better than Rogue One, which I consider to be the pinnacle of modern Star Wars films (any film made after the Original Trilogy).  The Last Jedi is confounding at times, but also staggeringly glorious at others.  Kathleen Kennedy is three for three with the new Star Wars films created under her tenure as head of Lucasfilm.  Considering how even George Lucas himself struggled so mightily with his prequel trilogy, this is something of a minor miracle.

Whereas all previous Star Wars sequels have picked up the story a significant amount of time after the events of the previous film, The Last Jedi begins immediately after the end of The Force Awakens.  The First Order has learned the location of the Resistance’s hidden base and dispatched Star Destroyers to annihilate it, sending Poe, Finn, Leia, and the rest of the Resistance on the run.  Meanwhile, Rey has found Luke Skywalker, but the grizzled old man Luke has become has shut himself off from the Force and refuses to train her.  Desperate to understand her place in the galaxy-shaking events unfolding around her, Rey finds an unexpected connection with… Kylo Ren, the man who was once Ben Solo.

The Last Jedi shares certain broad-strokes story beats with The Empire Strikes Back.  Both films begin with an Imperial assault on a hidden rebel base that sends our heroes on the run; both depict a young Jedi seeking out an old master to be trained in the ways of the Force; both feature our heroes scattered for most of the run-time; both end with the heroes battered and the villains still a threat.

But beyond those surface similarities, The Last Jedi[continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews War For the Planet of the Apes!

It is a major cinematic miracle that the rebooted Planet of the Apes series is as great as it is.  It would be oh so easy to get this series completely wrong.  (See: Tim Burton’s Ape Lincoln.)  I remain staggered that someone ever had the idea to basically use the fourth film in the original five-film Apes series from the seventies as the basis for a reboot, and flabbergasted that a major studio actually let that film get made.  And that it actually turned out to be good?  Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a great film, and the sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, was a masterpiece, one of the finest pieces of speculative fiction in recent memory.

Director Matt Reeves, returning from Dawn, brings the story to a conclusion with War For the Planet of the Apes.  Set some time after Dawn, we see the remnants of the American military, led by the enigmatic Colonel (Woody Harrelson), attempting to hunt down and destroy Caesar (Andy Serkis)’s colony of intelligent apes.  While the bulk of the colony attempts to flee beyond the Colonel’s reach, Caesar and his closest allies (the chimpanzee Rocket, the gorilla Luca, and the orangutan Maurice) set out to hunt down the Colonel in an attempt to end the ape-human conflict forever.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes remains the true magnum opus of this series.  That film’s richly emotional meditation on humanity, on peace and war, and on mercy and hate, is an extraordinary achievement that War is not ever able to top, in my opinion.  Nevertheless, I found War For the Planet of the Apes to be quite spectacular.  This is no dumb summer blockbuster.  War For the Planet of the Apes wrestles with complicated themes that most CGI-packed big-budget movies steer well clear of.  It is a deeply satisfying conclusion to this three-film saga, paying off characters who have become wonderfully developed over the course of the series.  (The film certainly leaves the door open to future installments, and I would be very happy to see this series continue well into the future.  But if the series ends here, it has come to a fine ending.)

If the film makes any mis-steps, it might just be that title.  Both Rise and Dawn ended with some terrific ape-versus-human carnage, and with a title like War For the Planet of the Apes, I expected this movie to escalate the action right from the get-go.  But War For the Planet of the Apes is not a bombastic action-adventure movie.  Instead, the film is a somber, elegiac tale of broken, near-desperate characters (ape and human) trying desperately to find … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews Star Wars: The Force Awakens!

I don’t remember a time in my life in which I didn’t know about and love Star Wars.  I was a little kid when the original films came out, and by the time I really remember it, Star Wars was already a complete thing.  Three films: Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi.  I read lots of articles about Star Wars as a kid and I of course knew the story that George Lucas had at one time pictured a Star Wars saga consisting of nine films… and obviously I was aware that those three Star Wars films that had been made were numbered Episode IV, V, and VI, but it didn’t seem like there was any prospect of additional Star Wars on the horizon.  I just accepted that, and I was all right with that.  Those three films painted a complete story, and I was satisfied.

I still remember the excitement when word trickled out that George Lucas was actually going to go ahead and make his fabled prequel films.  Like, I think, almost every Star Wars fan on the planet, I was hugely excited to see the backstory fleshed out.  A chance to see the Jedi in their prime?  To learn about what the heck the Clone Wars were?  And to finally discover just how the Emperor and Darth Vader were able to destroy the Jedi?  It was tantalizing.  Well, we all know how that turned out.  Watching Episode I in theatres that opening night was the most crushingly disappointing cinematic experience of my life.  I’d never really considered the possibility that the movie wouldn’t be great.  Episode II felt like a step forward at the time but that film has aged terribly.  There’s a lot that I like about Episode III — it’s the only prequel film that I can say I enjoyed — but it was too little, too late.  To me, the prequels are best forgotten.

And so, again, in my mind that was it.  George Lucas didn’t seem interested in making any additional Star Wars films, and after the disappointment of the prequels I was totally fine with that.  The Star Wars story was finished.

And then Mr. Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney and immediately the announcement was made that Episode VII was in development.  I of course followed those developments with great interest.  While I can’t say I was surprised that the decision was made to make more Star Wars films, I truly never expected to see Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher ever again reprise their roles on-screen.  I was stunned when that was announced, and even now after seeing The Force Awakens I am still … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews The Avengers: Age of Ultron!

Avengers.AgeofUltron.cropped

Marvel Studios is on a winning streak the likes of which I have rarely seen.  (The only recent comparison I can draw is Pixar’s incredible run from Ratatouille in 2007 through Toy Story 3 in 2010.)  Right before seeing The Avengers: Age of Ultron, one of my friends sent me a ranking of all of Marvel’s movies.  In response I created my own ranking (which I might publish on this site one of these days).  The bottom two films on my list were Iron Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk.  What’s astonishing is that each of the rest of the eight Marvel films on the list were all pretty great films that I loved a lot — and even those bottom two films were pretty enjoyable!  There really isn’t a true failure in the mix!  Over the past eight years, since 2008’s Iron Man, Marvel has done what had not only never been done before, but really never even conceived of before: they’ve created a vast cinematic universe of interlocking films, with characters and story-lines flowing from film to film in an epic continuing saga.  What’s even more incredible is that, at this point, they make the whole thing look so damn easy!  It’s astounding.  I know Marvel is going to stumble one of these days, but for now I am sitting back and loving every minute of this ride.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron is an amazing film.  I loved it.  Watching this film I had a huge grin on my face for the entire run time.  There are so many reasons this film could have been bad.  Sequels are hard and usually disappoint.  In addition to all of the main Avengers characters, this film introduced a number of new characters and we’ve all seen superhero films (particularly sequels — I’m looking at you, Spider-Man 3) collapse under the weight of too many characters.  Whereas The Avengers was the culmination of the first run of Marvel films, Age of Ultron needs to set up the next several years of story-lines, and that could easily have made the film feel unwieldy and unsatisfying (the fate that befell Iron Man 2).

But thanks to the incredible skill and talent of writer-director Joss Whedon and his astounding team of collaborators (overseen by Marvel Studios mastermind Kevin Feige, the guiding force behind all of these Marvel movies), Age of Ultron soars.  It’s a long-movie but it never drags, it is hugely enjoyable from start to finish.  It’s got enormous, staggeringly gigantic action sequences that astound, but it’s also deeply routed in character with some wonderful moments for every one of the film’s sprawling cast.  It’s serious and tense but it also … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

I have been troubled by the popularization, over the past several years, of the idea of a “reboot” as a way to keep franchises evergreen and continually making money for the corporations that own them.  I think there are times when a reboot is foolishly chosen whereas a continuation would have been preferable (Exhibit A: the Spider-Man films).  And there are lots of examples of Hollywood choosing to remake a great or well-liked film as a lazy way of capitalizing on a familiar brand rather than daring to create something new or original.  This usually results in a lame, lesser version of the original (See: Robocop, Total Recall, I could go on…)

But not all reboots are bad.  I loved Christopher Nolan’s reboot of Batman in Batman Begins, and while it is too early to tell whether the again-rebooted Batman we’ll see in Batman V. Superman will be any good, I think Warner Brothers has the right idea in giving us a new version of Batman rather than trying to keep telling stories in continuity from the end of Mr. Nolan’s Batman Trilogy.  (I love Joseph Gordon Levitt, but thank goodness the rumors — following the release of The Dark Knight Rises — that he would star in a new movie as Batman proved to be false.)

Which brings me to Planet of the Apes.  I have always been a HUGE fan of the original five films.  That first Planet of The Apes from 1968 is a true classic, a fantastic film that holds up extremely well today.  The four sequels that were then churned out in short succession (basically one a year!!) are increasingly bad, but I still love them.  Even though the budgets shrank and they had to come up with increasingly ludicrous ways to continue the series, I am always impressed by the creativity shown in the ways they found to continue the story, by the ambition on display in the way they continued to incorporate social allegory into the film’s stories, and by just how much innocent goofy fun can be had when watching the films today.  I love them all.

The other nice thing about the original five films is how complete they feel as a series.  The fifth film cleverly wrapped the story back around to the first film, giving the five films together the feel of a complete saga.  I never felt that this series cried out for a continuation or a reboot.   Tim Burton’s idiotic attempt to remake/reboot the series is best forgotten, and strong evidence for the pitfalls in trying to remake/re-envision a famous film series.

But then came 2011’s Rise of the Planetof the Apes.  It had a dumb title, … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Click here to read part one of my list of the Top 15 Movies of 2012, in which I listed numbers 15-11.  Now, onward!

10. Looper In this smart, original sci-fi flick written and directed by Rian Johnson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe.  Joe is a Looper, someone paid to kill guys the mob from thirty-years in the future send back in time to get whacked, long before the law might be looking for their bodies or any evidence of the crime.  One day, the guy sent back in time for Joe to kill turns out to be Joe himself, now played by Bruce Willis.  Old Joe gets away from Young Joe, and things spiral out of control from there.  Bruce Willis hasn’t been this much fun to watch in an action movie in years, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is terrific as well.  I loved watching these two play off of one another.  Emily Blunt (making her second appearance on my Best of 2012 list, as she also starred in The Five-Year Engagement) and Paul Dano and Jeff Daniels are all fun in supporting roles.  This is a twisty sci-fi tale that is mind-bending without ever losing sight of the character drama at the heart of the story. (Click here for my original review.)

9. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Though not the masterpiece that the three original Lord of the Rings films were, this first of Peter Jackson’s three-film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is still a ferociously entertaining fantasy adventure.  At nearly three hours in length, this film is stuffed to the gills with extraordinary sights and thrills, with characters and with circumstance.  Martin Freeman is wonderful as Bilbo Baggins (inheriting the role from Ian Holm who played Bilbo in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and who actually reprises his role as “Old Bilbo” in one of this film’s many prologues), a great every-man anchor to the story.  He’s great, and I also loved seeing lots more of Ian McKellan, who reprises his role as Gandalf and is magnificent as ever as the gruff, temperamental wizard.  The film is filled with many great new characters (all of the Dwarves) as well as the welcome return of many familiar faces from the original trilogy (Hugo Weaving as Elrond, Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, Christopher Lee as Saruman, and of course Andy Serkis as Gollum).  The “riddles in the dark” scene with Gollum alone makes this film worth seeing, but there are so many other wonderful moments, from the long opening scene in Bag End with all of the dwarves (highlighted by Richard Armitage as Thorin and the other Dwarves singing the somber “Misty Mountains” … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

“Far over the Misty Mountains cold…” Josh Reviews The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

During the buildup towards the release of the first film in Peter Jackson’s three-film adaptation of The Hobbit, I found myself having a hard time imagining Mr. Jackson and co. being able to top the magnificent achievement that was his Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I’m sure there were times when Mr. Jackson himself had the same thought, which is why when work on the adaptation began in earnest, he was not originally slated to direct. The films (at the time the plan was for two films) were due to be helmed by Guillermo del Toro, but when the project hit the brakes because of New Line’s bankruptcy, Mr. del Toro left the project and Peter Jackson stepped in.  I’m pleased that’s how things worked out.  While I would have loved to have seen del Toro’s version of The Hobbit, that would have been a very different film indeed, and as The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey began, I was delighted to find myself back in the world of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth.

Is The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey as good as any of the Lord of the Rings films?  At the moment my feeling is that it is not, but I have seen all three Lord of the Rings films so many times, and my love for them has only grown over the years.  Having only had one senses-pounding viewing of The Hobbit under my belt, the film hasn’t quite sunk in for me yet, and it’s definitely conceivable that the film will rise in my estimation once I have seen it a few more times.  But for now, while I would rank this film slightly lower than the Lord of the Rings films, I still found it to be an absolutely magnificent achievement, and a ferociously entertaining time in the theatre.  I’ve avoided reading too many reviews of the film before seeing it, but I’ve seen a lot of headlines that seem to describe the film as being just OK.  I am here to tell you not to believe that hogwash.  The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a spectacular fantasy adventure, huge in scope but also filled with rich character work and deep emotion.

The film feels fully of a piece with Mr. Jackson’s original trilogy.  Many characters recur, of course (Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel, Saruman, Gollum, and others), and Mr. Jackson’s team have faithfully recreated many of the iconic locations that we first saw in The Lord of the Rings: Bag End, Rivendell, etc.  There are a ton of little nods and winks to the events of the original trilogy (when I write “original trilogy,” I feel like I should be talking about Star Wars!): Gandalf once … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

The Top 15 Movies of 2011 — Part Three!

Click here for part one of my Top 15 Movies of 2011 list, numbers fifteen through eleven, and here for part two, featuring numbers ten through six. Buckle up, now, as it’s time for the home stretch, the best of the best (at least in my humble opinion) of 2011!

5.  Young Adult Juno writer and director Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman re-team for a deliciously dark comedy about a twisted, pretty-much irredeemably terrible young woman named Mavis Gary (a magnificent Charlize Theron) who returns to the small hometown she left years before, in an attempt to win back her old jock boyfriend (Patrick Wilson). He’s married with a young baby, but so what?  During her week back in town, Mavis bumps into another high school classmate, the nerdy, disabled Matt (Patton Oswalt). The two strike up a weird sort-of friendship, and the way the arc of that pairing avoids any of the typical movie cliche ways that those sorts of relationships usually unfold on-screen is only one way in which this movie is unremittingly awesome.  The running gag about the way Mavis wakes up each morning, the terrific chemistry between Ms. Theron and Mr. Oswalt, and that pitch-perfect ending are just a few others.  A phenomenal film.  (Click here for my full review.)

4.   The Adventures of TintinShould anyone be surprised that the team-up of cinematic titans Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson produced gold?  This deliriously joyful, madcap adventure is non-stop pulpy fun from start-to-finish.  The film just zips on by, one incredible sequence after another, with Mr. Spielberg showing us once again how he is an absolute master at staging an action scene and assembling a crowd-pleasing adventure film.  The animation is gorgeous, the voice-work is impeccable (highlighted by another brilliant performance by the great Andy Serkis — I also praised his work in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, when I wrote about that film earlier on this list), and when the closing credits ran I couldn’t believe the film was over already.  This one is going to get a lot of play in my household in the coming years, of that I have no doubt.  I can’t wait for the sequel, in which Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Jackson will apparently switch roles (so that Mr. Spielberg will produce the film and Mr. Jackson will direct).  (Click here for my full review.)

3.  BridesmaidsKirsten Wiig and co-writer Annie Mumolo, working with brilliant comedy director Paul Feig (creator of Freaks of Geeks), producer Judd Apatow, and a tremendous cast of women, hit every note exactly perfectly in this comedic home-run.  The film is … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

The Top 15 Movies of 2011 — Part Two!

Yes, this year my Top 10 Movies of 2011 list is a Top 15 list!  Click here for part one of my list, numbers fifteen through eleven.  And now, onward!

10.  The Guard — I just saw this film last week.  It was the last addition to my list!   Brendan Gleeson is riveting as a small-time Irish policeman — brash, set-in-his-ways, and someone who delights in nothing more than taking the piss out of anyone he meets — who finds himself forced to work with an American FBI agent, played by Don Cheadle, investigating drug-runners. The film is laugh-out-loud hilarious, and also dramatic and intense. It looks like it was made on a tiny budget, but I was totally taken by this fiercely original piece of work, and Mr. Gleeson’s role is without question one of the best written and acted of the year.  I’ll have a full review coming soon.

9.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes I’m a hard-core Planet of the Apes fanatic, so I didn’t need any convincing to check out this newest attempt to reinvent the franchise. But I was stunned by how high-quality the finished film actually was. It was perfectly designed to appeal to the long-time Apes fans and the Apes newbies equally. Andy Serkis’ motion-capture performance as the young ape Caesar, the center of the story, is extraordinary, aided and abetted by some phenomenal, top-of-the-line CGI work. The action at the end of the movie is a whole heck of a lot of end-of-the-world fun, but I was long-before sold on the film by Mr. Serkis’ powerful work. Rise of the Planet of the Apes works perfectly as a stand-alone film, but I certainly hope that we’ll get to see further sequels set in this world.  (Click here for my full review.)

8.  Super 8 J. J. Abrams’ homage to classic Steven Spielberg films that he directed and produced for Amblin Entertainment, throughout the eighties, cut right to the core of my movie-loving heart. The film captures the coming-of-age, kids on an adventure feeling of E.T., The Goonies, and Stand By Me in a powerful way, creating a film that feels deeply nostalgic and also timeless. The ensemble of kids are phenomenal, well-directed by Mr. Abrams, and I loved the film’s gradual build-up of mystery and suspense.  And visually it is stunning, with top-notch visual effects work, costumes, sets, props, etc., that truly capture the period setting.  This would be in my top five this year if only the monster story-line part of the film made a bit more sense.  (For more details on what I mean by that last comment, click here for my full [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

A Steven Spielberg Double-Feature Part I — The Adventures of Tintin

Steven Spielberg has only directed one film since Munich (click here for my review) in 2005, and that was the tragically disappointing Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008 (which I prefer to pretend never happened).  That’s a long dry spell for one of the masters of modern cinema.  Luckily for us all, Mr. Spielberg burst back onto cinema screens in a big way, late last month, with the release of not one, but TWO new films, released just three days apart from one another: The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse. I saw them both during a terrifically fun late-night double-feature.  I’ll be back here soon with my thoughts on War Horse — for now, let’s dive into The Adventures of Tintin.

The film is, of course, based on the long-running French-language comic-book series written and illustrated by the Belgian artist Hergé.  It draws upon material from several of the Tintin books, including The Secret of the Unicorn (which was, at one point, the sub-title for this film — I’m not certain when that was dropped), The Crab with the Golden Claws, and Red Rackham’s Treasure. Tintin, Boy Reporter, purchases a model of a three-masted sailing ship, The Unicorn, at an outdoor market and immediately finds himself embroiled in a globe-trotting adventure involving various parties’ search for the wreck of the actual ship The Unicorn, which is rumored to contain an enormous treasure.

The film is magnificent, a viscerally entertaining romp all the way through.  When the film ended and the lights went up, I couldn’t believe it was over — the time had passed so quickly.  I’ve heard people comparing The Adventures of Tintin in tone to Raiders of the Lost Ark. While Tintin doesn’t equal that masterpiece, there certainly are similarities in terms of the film’s pulp-inspired adventurous spirit, and the rapid pace in which we (and the hero character) are thrown from one exciting action-sequence into the next.

Actually, what the Adventures of Tintin reminds me of, even more than Raiders, is the prologue to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, depicting one of young Indy (played by River Phoenix)’s adventures.  Not only is our protagonist a fairly young boy who is surprisingly tough and clever for his age, but there’s a delicate balance between intense action that features peril for our hero and an almost slapstick comedic sensibility.

That’s a tough balance to find, but with Steven Spielberg’s hand at the helm (not to mention producer Peter Jackson’s), it’s a balance that The Adventures of Tintin makes look effortless.  There are so many thrilling sequences that stick out in my mind, from the film.  There are the … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Ape Management Part 7: Josh reviews Rise of the Planet of the Apes!

When I first started to read about the possibility of a new Planet of the Apes film, a few years back, I thought the central concept was at once incredibly gutsy and yet at the same time quite boringly predictable.

The idea of remaking not the first Planet of the Apes (the way Tim Burton catastrophically attempted to do, ten years ago), but rather the FOURTH one — re-telling the story of Caesar and his ape revolution — seemed to me to be a rather gloriously insane notion.  Who would be interested in such an “inside baseball” approach (exploring this obscure piece of Apes lore, from Battle for the Planet of the Apes, that I suspected few had ever heard of)?

On the other hand, since Hollywood seems insistent on churning out prequel after prequel these days, it also seemed very boringly of-the-moment to do a Planet of the Apes “Begins” story.  Urgh, when separated from the loopy time-traveling fun of the circular narrative of the original Planet of the Apes films of the ’70s, what was the point?  Did we really need yet another prequel explaining how a beloved fantasy world came to be?

Well, my friends, I am extraordinarily pleased to report that director Rupert Wyatt, along with writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, have managed to create a new Planet of the Apes film that is the best of both worlds.  Set in the present day, the film succeeds as a totally accessible, stand-alone piece of speculative fiction that can be enjoyed by anyone, even if you’ve never seen a minute of any other Planet of the Apes film.  But for those of us die-hard Apes fans, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a wonderfully engaging, clever re-imagining of the series, and one that fits shockingly well into the continuity of the original 1968 film.

James Franco plays Will Rodman, a brilliant young scientist whose passion to create a drug that can repair deficient brain cells is based on his desperate need to help his father (played by John Lithgow), who is suffering from Alzheimer’s.  As the film opens, Will believes that he is on the cusp of incredible success, because one of his ape test subjects has demonstrated enormous leaps in mental cognition after taking Will’s drug.  But things quickly turn sour, and Will’s project is shuttered.  His apes are put down, but one of Will’s co-workers is able to save one baby ape.  When Will discovers the remarkable intelligence possessed by this ape, who he names Caesar, he begins to suspect that maybe his drug was a success after all.  But his noble efforts to cure a terrible disease might have catastrophic … [continued]