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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]

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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]

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News Around the Net

Coming out of the spectacular Rogue One, my excitement for all things Star Wars is riding high.  Coming to fan the flames is this awesome new teaser for the remaining episodes of Season Three of Star Wars: Rebels:

Obviously the huge bombshell is the first animated appearance of Alec Guinness-era Obi-Wan Kenobi, and the tease of a long-awaited rematch with Darth Maul.  But there’s a lot more than just that to get excited by.  There’s Saw Gerrera from Rogue One, with Forest Whitaker returning to voice the character, a super-cool crossover.  We see hints of what looks like an enormous space battle between the Rebel Alliance and a group of Imperial Star Destroyers.  There’s Mon Mothma and Bail Organa and General Dodonna, and I think we get a glimpse of Wedge Antilles, too!  I’m excited by the idea that these upcoming episodes will start to show us the assembly of the Rebel Alliance that we know from the Original Trilogy, and now also from Rogue One.  It’s also cool to see more of Admiral Thrawn.  (Is the show going to allow Thrawn to be defeated to easily?  That’d be a letdown. But, on the other hand, I wonder… the opening crawl of the original Star Wars describes what we just saw in Rogue One as the Battle of Scariff as the Rebels’ “first victory” against the Empire.  Is it possible that Rebels is going to show the Rebels LOSING this fight, and Thrawn coming out on top?  That would be very interesting, and very cool…)

I am super-excited by this first full trailer for Spider-Man: Homecoming:

Holy cow that is a spectacular trailer.  The reinvention of Spider-Man seen in Captain America: Civil War was phenomenal, and this strong trailer only makes me even more excited for Tom Holland to star in the role in his own film.  I love how gently this trailer reminds you that Spidey is now firmly in the Marvel cinematic universe — doesn’t it just feel so perfect?  I love the Avengers bank-robbers and WOW that show of Spidey and Iron Man together at the end was incredible.  I loved the way the Civil War writers crafted the relationship between Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark and Tom Holland’s young peter Parker, and I am so excited that this upcoming Spidey film will explore that dynamic further.  It is super-cool that they got Mr. Downey Jr. to appear in this film.  Also — is that Ganke as Peter’s best friend??  Ganke is a character created by Brian Michael Bendis as the best-friend of Mr. Bendis’ “ultimate” Spider-Man, Miles Morales.  Have they co-opted the Ganke character to be Peter Parker’s best friend for this movie?  I’m beyond excited … [continued]

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I hope you’ve all enjoyed by Best of 2014 lists!  I’ve listed my Top 20 Movies of 2014 (click here for part one, part two, part three, and part four), my Top 15 Episodes of TV of 2014 (click here for part one, part two, and part three), and my Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2014 (click here for part one, part two, and part three).  Now we arrive at my final list, the Top 8 Blu-Rays of 2014.

Top eight?  Yeah, top eight.  While this year I have expanded most of my lists (my Top 15 Movies list became a Top 20, and my Top 10 Episodes of TV list became a Top 15), I found I had a hard time coming up with 10 truly great DVDs or Blu-rays.  I think there are two reasons for this.  The first is personal: though I suspect I still buy far more DVDs & blu-rays than the average person, I found that I bought far fewer discs this year than I had in years.  Partly this was to save some money.  But also because of reason number two: that after a golden age of awesome DVD sets with extraordinary special features, great special editions of movies or TV shows are much scarcer these days.  I find myself unimpressed with the behind the scenes features on most blu-rays these days, even the movies that were the biggest hits.  Most studios are trying to save money by cutting back on providing special features for their home video releases, which is a big shame in my opinion.

But still, there were eight blu-rays that I wanted to praise, and here they are:

8. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes This film was number 5 on my Top 20 Movies of 2014 list, and it looked absolutely spectacular on blu-ray.  And while I wouldn’t say that the special features are phenomenal, they are pretty good, certainly head-and-shoulders above the special features found on almost any other big 2014 release.  There’s about an hour of fun behind-the-scenes featurettes (it’s particularly cool to see Andy Serkis, Terry Notary, and several other familiar faces from the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit behind-the-scenes documentaries, appear in these featurettes) and a great commentary track from director Matt Reaves.  (Click here for my original review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.)

7. The Seven-Per-Cent Solution For decades I have been reading or hearing about this film that was written by Star Trek II and VI writer & director Nicholas Meyer (adapting his novel of the same name), but … [continued]

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What fun this has been, looking back at all of the amazing movies from 2014!  Click here for part one of my list of the Best Movies of 2014, numbers twenty through sixteen.  Click here for part two, numbers fifteen through eleven.  Click here for part three, numbers ten through six.

And now, at last, it’s time to draw this list to a close with my five favorite films of 2014.  Here we go:


5. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes I dearly love every film in the Planet of the Apes series, even the terrible ones.  (Though the least said about Tim Burton’s disappointing entry, the better.)  But I was bowled over by the greatness of Dawn, the eighth Planet of the Apes film and the second in the rebooted prequel series.  What a rare thing it is to see a sequel with such ingenuity, such creativity, such narrative power.  Director Matt Reaves has come in and crafted an astounding piece of speculative fiction.  Ten years after the events of the last Apes film, a plague has wiped out most of humanity.  Caesar and his apes have crafted for themselves a utopian civilization, deep in the woods of San Francisco.  But when a small group of humans wanders into Caesar’s community, the struggling human community and the developing ape community find themselves on a collision course, and Caesar’s belief that the apes are naturally superior to the flawed humans leads him to the precipice of a disastrous misjudgment.  Yes, this is a film that features talking apes, but Dawn is a rich human drama with Shakespearean levels of emotional complexity and power.  When everything goes to hell in the third act, it is tragic.  Andy Serkis does some of the best work of his career as Caesar, bringing such pathos, such richness of feeling to this ape character.  The mad geniuses at Weta Workshop and all the countless visual effects artists and crafts-people who brought the visual effects of this world to life have outdone themselves, creating one of the most impressive visual effects achievements I have ever seen.  Those apes look so real it is staggering.  Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a spectacular achievement, and I can’t wait to see where this series goes from here.  (Click here for my original review.)


4. Guardians of the Galaxy What was it I said back when writing about Captain America: The First Avenger about Marvel Studios making it look easy?  They took a comic book team fairly obscure even to comic book fans, one that has not been able to ever support its own comic book series for very … [continued]

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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]

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First up, a big thank-you to everyone who has backed the kickstarter for the Jewish Comix Anthology!  This 250-page hardcover will feature the work of 47 Jewish artists, including Art Spiegelman, Harvey Pekar, Robert Crumb, Will Eisner, Joe Kubert… and me!  There’s only a week left to back the project, so please click here to get in on this!  There are some great backer rewards, including a just-added opportunity to own some original Motion Pictures cartoons by yours truly!  That’s right!  Would you like to own the original version of one of these three cartoons…?




Click here to view the kickstarter and purchase those cartoons!  Thanks everyone!

OK, moving on… I have watched this trailer a LOT.  I have an excited feeling that this movie is going to take the world by storm.  (I hope so!!)

Oh man I can’t wait for this:

And this!  (It’s always apey-est just before the dawn…)

As if that Guardians of the Galaxy trailer I posted above wasn’t cool enough, they’ve also just released a new poster with a phenomenal tag-line.

Speaking of super-hero film news, Fox made some headlines recently with the announcement of the cast of their new Fantastic Four film.  I for one am crossing my fingers.  I have always loved the FF and nothing would make me happier than an amazing Fantastic Four movie.  But the casting seems to be rather off the mark.  I don’t mind Johnny Storm being black.  Michael B. Jordan is an awesome actor, I am happy he is in the movie.  And he seems like the only one of these four actors who feels like the right “fit” for his character — in this case the young, brash, fun-loving Johnny.  I am more worked up by skinny Jamie Bell being cast as Ben Grimm!!  And I like Miles Teller, he was phenomenal in The Spectacular Now (click here for my review), but he is WAY too young for Reed Richards.  In fact, ALL of these actors are too young, the FF should all be 30-somethings not 20-somethings.  I hope they have something good up their sleeves, but this casting doesn’t seem to indicate they plan on being too faithful to the comic book characters.  (At least, not the original FF.  Marvel comics’ “Ultimate” universe, created a decade-or-so ago, featured a teenaged FF.  But while there have been some great Ultimate universe stories, I was never that taken by that interpretation of the FF.)  And in a world where Marvel Studios exists, where they have been making amazing Marvel movies that are VERY faithful to the comics, I have little patience for another bad Fox-made FF movie.  Well, hope … [continued]

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OK, this is the greatest thing I have seen in a long time (BUT BEWARE SPOILERS IF YOU ARE NOT UP TO DATE WITH GAME OF THRONES!!!)

I love The Princess Bride!

I’ve completely lost faith in M. Night Shyalaman over the past decade, but that being said I still think Unbreakable is his best film, and I would so love for the long-rumored sequel to someday happen.  The one flaw with Unbreakable, in my mind, is that the story feels incomplete — it feels like the first act of a larger story.  So every time Mr. Shyamalan talks about a possible sequel, I am happy.

So this is interesting: in the months after the success of Skyfall, there was a lot of talk that Bond 24 and 25 (the next two Bond films) would be two connected films.  That was denied by the Bond producers.  But amidst the recent news that Skyfall Director will be returning for the next Bond film, the 24th, comes this rumor that Mr. Mendes is going to commit to helm the 25th Bond film as well!  I love the idea of a two-part Bond film, that would be super-cool if that happens.

Zack Snyder (director of Man of Steel) and Bruce Timm (mastermind behind Batman: The Animated Series) are collaborating on a Superman short film in honor of Superman’s 75th anniversary?  Awesome!

I have Superman because of my huge anticipation for The Man of Steel (which I hope to see this weekend!!), so now’s as good a time as any to read this terrific piece looking back at Superman II!  That film was a HUGE part of my childhood…!!

There’s been a lot of rumors flying in recent weeks about the inclusion of the character of Quicksilver in both Fox’s upcoming X-Men movie, Days of Future Past, as well as the Disney-owned Marvel Studios’ upcoming Avengers 2.  It will be fascinating to see how this all shakes out!

(Speaking of Days of Future PastNixon!  Love it!)

Anytime anyone is talking about Escape From the Planet of the Apes, I take notice!

And with that, my friends, I wish you all a great weekend.  I’ll be back next week with my thoughts on Man of Steel, season four of Arrested Development, and cartoons making fun of Star Trek Into Darkness.  Hope to see you all back here soon!… [continued]

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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]

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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]

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Ape Management Part 6: Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes (2001)

My friends and I discovered the Planet of the Apes films in college.  We’d taken to visiting the local rental store, trying to fill in the gaps in our movie-watching histories.  Basically, we rented films that we felt we really SHOULD see, since we considered ourselves movie-fans.  When we realized that none of us had seen Planet of the Apes, we decided to give that a viewing.  Suffice it to say, we LOVED it, in all its silly/serious glory.  When we realized that there were actually FOUR MORE Planet of the Apes films, we decided, well, we’d better watch them all too!  We had a great deal of fun watching the entire series, and the Apes films quickly became the movies we were prone to throw on, late at night, when in need of some entertainment.

So back in 2000/2001, when we heard that there was actually going to be a NEW Planet of the Apes film, and that it was going to be a big-budget version helmed by Tim Burton (a filmmaker we all held in high esteem), we were pretty much blown away with excitement and anticipation.  Though we were well out of college by then, several of us gathered together on opening weekend, to take in this new Apes film together.


I don’t think any of us HATED Tim Burton’s film, but we were pretty underwhelmed by what we saw.  I had such a dim view of Mr. Burton’s movie that, despite being a huge fan of the Apes series, and despite the many times I have re-watched the original five Apes films during the subsequent decade, I have never once been driven to sit down and watch Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes film again.

But I’d been having so much fun, recently, re-watching all of the Apes films in preparation for the new Apes movie that I decided, what the heck, it’s been ten years, let’s give Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes film another go.  Maybe now, removed from all of the hype and my built-up expectations, I’d think more highly of this film.

No such luck.  Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes is pretty much exactly the dud I remembered it being.

Things get off to a bad start right a way with a lugubrious opening credits sequence in which the camera slowly floats around an ornate object extreme close-up.  Gradually the camera pulls back, and we see it’s an ape helmet.  I thought this was cool when Mr. Burton did that with the Bat-Signal during the opening credits of Batman, but here it felt boring — been there, done that.

Things pick up somewhat during the sequence that … [continued]

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Ape Management Part 5: Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)

We have made it, at last, to the fifth and final film in the original Planet of the Apes series!  (Click here for my review of Planet of the Apes, here for my review of Beneath the Planet of the Apes, here for my review of Escape from the Planet of the Apes, and here for my review of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes.)

Though released only a year after 1972’s Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, this final installment is set ten years after the events of that film.  In the intervening years, two key events have transpired: Caesar (Roddy McDowell)’s revolution of the apes has succeeded, and much of the planet has been laid waste by nuclear war.  The mute apes we saw in Conquest have now all gained the ability to speak (though whether this is due to education by Caesar and friendly humans, or to mutation from the nuclear radiation, is never clarified).  In a fairly primitive, jungle village, we see apes and humans living together, though tensions between the two species continue to run high.  A gorilla general named Aldo opposes Caesar’s wish for peaceful co-habitation and plots to kill all of the humans and take control of the ape society.  Caesar, meanwhile, is distracted by a quest to learn about his parents (the deceased Cornelius and Zira) by traveling into the radioactive Forbidden Zone and accessing the video-tape archives stored there.  Will Caesar and his new society be undone by the violent gorillas, or by the mutated remnants of human society living in the Forbidden Zone?

After the society-shattering events of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, Battle for the Planet of the Apes seems fairly small in scale.  This is the cheapest-looking of the five original Apes films.  I can imagine that, by this point, the law of diminishing returns had set in, and this film probably had a smaller budget than its predecessors.  Battle also tells, to me, a far less interesting story than did Conquest. Whereas Conquest of the Planet of the Apes still stands today as a pretty shocking, envelope-pushing film, Battle for the Planet of the Apes covers pretty familiar ground: tension between the different species of apes, danger from radioactive mutants, and a few peaceful apes and humans who just want to find a way to get along.

That’s not to say that Battle for the Planet of the Apes is entirely without merit.  The film still boasts an admirable willingness to address some interesting, thorny issues in the way that the very best science fiction does: by presenting real-world issues in a different setting, the better to make … [continued]

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Ape Management Part 4: Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

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]

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Ape Management Part 3: Escape From the Planet of the Apes (1971)

July 20th, 2011

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]

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Ape Management Part 2: Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1969)

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]

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Ape Management Part 1: Planet of the Apes (1967)

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]

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Apes! Apes! Apes! Apes! Apes! Apes!

June 8th, 2011

I am loving the latest teaser trailer for the new Planet of the Apes flick:

To this day I remain ridiculously in love with the five original Planet of the Apes flicks (the less we discuss Tim Burton’s “re-imagining,” the better) and am starting to get very cautiously excited for this new one…!


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Though I think the quality of his films has dipped considerably in the last decade or two, I remain an enormous Woody Allen fan.  So I tip my hat to Juliet Lapidos from Slate Magazine who just watched every single Woody Allen film and summarized what she’s learned.  It’s a wonderful piece — well-worth your time.  (I’m also pleased that to learn that, after her massive re-watching project, she concurs with my long-held opinion that 1997’s Deconstructing Harry was Mr. Allen’s last truly great film.)

Here’s also a fascinating ranking of Mr. Allen’s films into categories (from the “masterworks” to the “bad”).  There’s not too much I can disagree with about this listing!  It’s pretty spot-on, I think.  A few quibbles: I think Hannah and her Sisters and What’s Up Tiger Lily should be bumped up to “great,” as should Play it Again Sam, Deconstructing Harry, and Zelig. Bananas deserves a spot in the “Masterworks” category, and I’d bump The Purple Rose of Cairo down one notch to the merely “great.”  And Scoop definitely needs to be shifted down into the “bad” category.  OK, I guess I did have some objections!  But still, over-all, a terrific list.

Speaking of obsessive-compulsive types, check this out: a complete guide to every single sneaker Jerry Seinfeld ever wore on Seinfeld.  Very cool (and just slightly frightening).

So, Rise of the Apes (which was originally called Caesar) is now Rise of the Planet of the Apes? Wow, the title just became simultaneously way more awesome and also way, way stupider.  I can’t wait!  (By the way, did you watch the new trailer???)

I’m not sure what makes me happier: that we’re actually getting a new Planet of the Apes movie this summer, or that in New Zealand right now they’re actually, finally, for-real, filming Peter Jackson’s two-film adaptation of The Hobbit. Have you seen the first new production diary? I have tingles.  I’m not kidding!  Peter Jackson was a true innovator with the video diaries that he posted back in the day, chronicling the making of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and then King Kong, and I have fond memories of devouring those whenever they were released during the pre-production and production of those films.  It makes me so happy that they’re finally back, and that The Hobbit is at long last under-way.  CAN’T WAIT FOR MORE.

Are we really just a few weeks away from Thor? I really want that movie to be good, but I’m a bit nervous.  This very positive early review has me optimistic, though!

I’ll be posting a piece soon with my thoughts on the last few DC animated projects … [continued]

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It’s a Madhouse!!!

April 15th, 2011

I cannot believe that that there really is a new Planet of the Apes film being released this summer.  I simply find it difficult to wrap my mind around that gloriously outlandish fact.  But look!  Visual evidence!!

Watch the trailer in super-high resolution here!

Can’t wait.… [continued]

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So is Peter Jackson going to direct The Hobbit? Or will it be his protege Neill Bolmkamp, who directed District 9? Who knows — I just hope this mess with MGM gets sorted out soon.  I’m still getting over my enormous disappointment that MGM’s financial situation resulted in Guillermo del Toro’s departure from The Hobbit films.  But boy would it be great to see PJ take the helm once again…

Great new trailer is up for The Social Network, the new film about facebook directed by David Fincher and scripted by Aaron Sorkin.

So, we finally got out first glimpse at The Green Hornet and… I’m still not quite sure what to think.  This film is either going to be awesome or a total catastrophe…

This is a cool poster.

CHUD’s list of the Worst CGI in Film History continues, and it’s well worth your time.

Will we ever get another decent X-Men film?  I loved X-Men and X2, but X3 was a crushing disappointment and the less spoken of the abominable X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the better.  I hate prequels, as a rule, so when word came out last year that the next X-film would be a prequel entitled X-Men: First Class, I thought that was a big mis-step.  So what now gives me hope?  Director Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Stardust, Kick Ass) and stars James McAvoy (Children of Dune, Atonement, Wanter) as Professor X and Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds) as Magneto.  An ember of hope is fanned…

Are we about to finally get another decent Predator film?  The first Predator is awesome — one on my favorite movies ever.  But the second one (set in the future with Danny Glover as the lead) is weak, and the less spoken of the two Alien Vs. Predator films the better.  But Robert Rodriguez and Nimrod Antal’s Predators is set for release in just a few short weeks, and damn if this new trailer isn’t pretty awesome.  An ember of hope is fanned…

It’s hard for me to believe that a new Planet of the Apes film is really happening.  And now I read that John Lithgow and Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire) have joined the cast?  Um, okay… An ember of hope is… well… we’ll see…… [continued]