Movie review: War For The Planet Of The Apes

Movie reviews

Hello, 

The third and final installment in the rebooted Apes franchise – War For The Planet Of The Apes – is upon us, so let’s review it.

IMDb summary: After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind.

SPOILER ALERT

Writing

War For The Planet Of The Apes broke the trend that most blockbusters follow nowadays and was written by only 2 people instead of a bunch of them. Mark Bomback (who wrote The Wolverine, Insurgent, and the previous entry in the trilogy Dawn) and the director Matt Reeves were the only two screenwriters responsible for the script and, to my mind, that was one of the factors that lead to War’s screenplay being a major success that only had a few minor flaws.

To begin with, I loved the neat recap that played with the titles of the films (Rise, Dawn, War). I also very much enjoyed the direction that this story took with the humans devolving and losing the traits that make them human. The scene in which Woody Harelson’s character exposed that concept was a bit exposition heavy but the idea itself was so interesting that I didn’t care that much. In general, the issues of humanity were even more prevalent than in the previous films and were handled really well. Moreover, I adored the final twists in the plot, where the final battle was more about the human vs human conflict with the apes caught in the middle. Additionally, the idea to have mother nature as the winning agent was a genius one and also helped the action-y third act to tie into Harrelson’s character’s story-idea that apes are more adapted for survival.

Other themes, like Caesar’s struggles of leadership (to stay with the group or be the lone wolf/ape), his drive for revenge and/or survival, and his feelings of guilt and responsibility, were great additions to the narrative that elevated the film. Speaking about Caesar, his death at the end of the movie was quite emotional – he was one of the most memorable sci-fi characters ever that we had a privilege of seeing grow and develop in three, near damn perfect, films.

The new characters in War were excellent additions. The bad ape character was an obvious ploy for comedic relief but he was actually funny (wonder how much of that was improvised and how much was written). The child human character was also really good – she was like a beacon of real humanity and goodness in a war film. Lastly, the few gripes with the picture’s writing I had were mostly illogical gaps in the narrative. For one, the soldier characters were kinda awful at their job, not noticing the little girl or that the apes were gone. Secondly, I wish that the ape characters would have been made to utilize their ape skills more. When Caesar and the band went looking for the colonel, why not make them smell the territory rather than just barge in? Thirdly, this is not really a logical flaw, but I wish that the flower moment with the ape and the girl and that ape’s death scene would have been further apart. It would have given us more time to really get to know the character and would have made the untimely demise even more emotional.

Directing

Matt Reeves took over Rupert Wyatt (he directed Rise) on the second film Dawn and also helmed the final installment War. I loved the continued direction that he first chose for the second film – to treat the movie as a thriller or even a drama but to also have spectacular action moments. War was intense and slow but crafted with such care. The only time the film slowed down too much was the sequences with the apes in the camp before they started planning the escape. Nevertheless, that part had to be in the picture because Caesar had to go through a period of muddled motivations and had to re-find his purpose.

The visuals were amazing: the surroundings of nature were just impeccable and a character in their own right, while the CGI of the apes was absolutely unbelievable as well and even better than it was before (and it was already great). The long takes were awe-inspiring and emotionally driven, like the shot of apes kneeling before Caesar in his introduction or the sweeping shots of the battle. Another emotional moment was the scene of the ‘Apes Together Strong’ sign. Ir really reminded me of The Hunger Games ‘Three Finger Salute’.

Generally, I loved what Reeves did with the final installment in this trilogy and I’m now way more trusting in the fact that he can absolutely nail The Batman solo movie. He recently replaced Ben Affleck as the director of that project and his is also rewriting the script.

Acting

Andy Serkis (LOTR, Star Wars 7, Avengers 2) was back in his element as Caesar and just did his job to perfection. He portrayed so much emotion through all the CGI: some actors can’t even do that with their real faces. He is a mastermind of motion capture and his work must be rewarded or at least recognized. Academy, prove to us that you are not as old fashioned as we think.

Although other actors had to compete with Serkis, they did do a good job with their motion capture performances too. The comedian Steve Zahn was brilliant as the Bad Ape, while the returning talent Karin Konoval and Terry Notary were also really good. I really wish that their motion capture work would lead to more on-screen acting gigs for them. The humans, this time around, were played by Woody Harrelson (Triple 9, Now You See Me 2) – he was great in the villainous role and the young TV actress Amiah Miller – she was a delight to watch as well.

In short, War For The Planet Of The Apes might be the best thriller of this summer and one of the best blockbusters too. It’s smartly written, well-acted, and directed with care on top of being an incredible showcase of what can be achieved with CGI in this day and age.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: War For The Planet Of The Apes trailer

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Movie review: Ben-Hur

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to one of the last movie reviews of this summer. This time, we are discussing a film that was mostly panned by critics and was almost completely forgotten by the audiences – Ben-Hur.

IMDb summary: Judah Ben-Hur, a prince falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother, an officer in the Roman army, returns to his homeland after years at sea to seek revenge but finds redemption.

2016’s Ben-Hur is the 5th Ben-Hur picture in the last 100 years. This story is quite old, both literately and figuratively. Not only is the plot set in the ancient times, but the original source material – a book by Lew Wallace titled Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ – has been published at the end of 19th century. While I usually enjoy epic and historical movies, their religious aspects tend to be a hit and miss for me. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Noah and, while Exodus seemed like a fun action adventure, its casting had a lot of problems. Don’t even get me started on Gods of Egypt. The mosts successful religious movie to date is probably The Passion of The Christ, but other than that, religious action features are a hard sell for Hollywood. I’ve also personally noticed that I more interested in movies about pagans rather than any monotheistic religions.

Speaking about Ben-Hur – it is not as bad as everyone is telling you. It has problems, like any other film, but it also a fun adventure with some religious ideas that sometimes stick and sometimes don’t. I wish that the audiences wouldn’t have given up on it without even giving it a chance. At this point, I should also probably note that I haven’t seen any other Ben-Hur pictures because I wanted to allow this movie to stand on its own. I haven’t read the book either, but I’m strongly considering doing that, as I did enjoy the film overall.

Writing

Ben-Hur’s screenplay was penned by Keith Clarke and John Ridley. Ridley has an Academy Award for writing 12 Years a Slave, while Clarke is not that accomplished – he has mostly worked on documentaries until now. For the most part, I really liked the writing for this film. I thought they did a good job with the development and likeability of the two leads – you could actually understand both of their arguments. The supporting characters could have received a few more scenes, but the lack of development for them didn’t bother me much. The dialogue, the catchphrases as well as the repeatable lines that the characters would spit out to each other were all cool and worked well in the picture.

My biggest problems with the story were all related to the set- up also known as the first act. Messala’s decision to leave seemed a bit rushed – I would have like to see more of him and Judah as kids or teenagers. The parts of the story leading up to the big betrayal/accusation were also wonky – the film was going all over the place and seemed to be both rushing and dragging at the same time. However, with the beginning of the second act, which I thought was that sequence with Judah on the ship, the movie really found its footing. It had a clear direction and a cohesive, simple but interesting main storyline.

Ben-Hur also had nice topical ideas. It cleverly contrasted the ideology of Rome ‘let’s spread civilization through violence’ with the teachings of Jesus, which were all about the compassion, peace, and solidarity. The whole biblical ending seemed a bit weird and out of place, especially after that big action sequence, however, I do understand why it had to be there – they wanted to end the film with a positive message of forgiveness instead of the celebration of revenge. It was a truly happy ending in a classical Hollywood fashion.

Directing

Timur Bekmambetov, the director of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and the producer of Hardcore Henry, directed Ben-Hur and did quite a nice job. Yes, some scenes were a bit overdramatized, but the ship sequence, as well as the final race, were both awesome. The whole setting and vibe of the film reminded me of HBO’s Rome, while the chariot race gave me flashbacks to a similar sequence in a French family film – Asterix at the Olympic Games. Ben-Hur’s CGI was also quite good – I have seen worse effects in the movie that cost even more to make. The credits of the film were also quite cool – those graphics were interesting and fit the movie perfectly.

Acting

The film didn’t have any really big name talent involved, so maybe that’s why the audiences passed it by. The most prominent name actor of the cast was probably Morgan Freeman (Now You See Me)  – he looked ridiculous with those dreads but worked well in the role of the mentor.

The two leads were played by Jack Huston as Judah Ben-Hur and Toby Kebbell as Messala. The two of them were great in the roles, both in the dramatic and action sequences. Their chemistry was also believable. Huston is mostly known for starring in Boardwalk Empire, but he also had roles in American Hustle and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Kebbell has started in a few big films but without showing his face – he played Koba in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, starred as Doctor Doom or at least Fox’s version of that character in Fantastic Four and was the actor behind the main Orc character in the Warcraft movie. Coming up, he has Kong: Skull Island.

The supporting cast consisted of Iranian actress Nazanin Boniadi as Esther, Ben-Hur’s love interest; Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro as Jesus; and Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer as Naomi, Ben-Hur’s mother. I love the fact that the casting director at least tried to make the movie more international and introduced me and other Western viewers to some new talent, although, Zurer should be quite familiar to us all – she plays Kingpin’s love interest on Daredevil. Two Americans – Sofia Black D’Elia as Tirzah and Moisés Arias (who is still stuck in the Hannah Montana times in my mind) as Gestas – rounded up the cast and also did a good job.

In short, Ben-Hur was a solid picture that exceeded my expectations. It needed some time to get into the right path but when it did – it was great! The story was interesting, the two leads were complex characters, brought to life by two amazing actors and the action didn’t suck either.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Ben-Hur trailer

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Movie PREVIEW: Alice Through The Looking Glass

Movie previews

Hello!

Welcome to another movie preview, this time for a live-action fairytale sequel – Alice Through The Looking Glass. At first, I conceived the following passages as parts of the film review but then the draft became too long, so I decided to publish it separately. So, let’s discuss Tim Burton’s previous work as well as Alice’s story in various mediums.

Burton’s filmography

Tim Burton is known for working with certain actors again and again, including Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Coen, Alan Rickman and, of course, Johnny Depp (all of these actors will also be part of Alice 2). He is also one of the most distinct filmmakers/auteurs when it comes to style (which can only be described as cartoonish yet dark, cook-y, theatrical, over-the-top and plain weird). Let’s do single sentence reviews of his previous films:

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Edward Scissorhands (1990): a sweet love story (+), that explores people’s differences and our need for home (++), and stars Anthony Michael Hall in his most annoying role (-).

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Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992): Burton’s Batman and its sequel paved the way for the modern superhero movies (+). Although both films are full of 90s cliches, they are still enjoyable and fun to watch (-/+). Their mise-en-scene and style resemble the Gotham TV series, which, most likely, was inspired by Burton’s films (+). Speaking about acting, the role of Batman helped Keaton a lot and is still positively affecting his career to this day – Birdman would not have been that successful of a film without the real life similarities between the character and the actor (+).

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The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) : Halloween/Christmas classic and a musical (+), a stop-motion animation – the hardest to create but the most spectacular to watch (++). I can’t believe that it wasn’t directed by Burton, only produced by him (!).
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Planet of the Apes (2001) : I watched this movie way too young and had a lot of nightmares afterwards (same with 1997’s Mars Attacks!) (-), nowadays, it doesn’t really stand up to rewatching (-), but at least this film’s lack of success inspired a great reboot franchise (+).

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Charlie and The Chocolate Factory (2005): childhood favorite (+), has a wide appeal –  who doesn’t love sweets? (++), and one of more colorful films by Burton (+++).

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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007): bloody musical – literally (+), Victorian gothic/steampunk-ish (++) and stars Jamie Campbell Bower – one of my favorite musicians/actors (+++).

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Big Eyes (2014): one of the most interesting biographical films when it comes to the subject matter (+), features amazing performances by Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz (++), and is also the most ‘normal’ film by Burton (+/-).

Alice in Wonderland: 1951 and 2010

1951’s Alice in Wonderland is a classic example of old school Disney: the movie has a simple story, runtime of a little over an hour, colorful hand-drawn graphics, catchy songs, talking animals (and plants) and tons of pure childish wonder.

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The 2010 version is way darker and much more adult. It’s also more modern in that the visuals were created with CGI. The story also received an update in a form of additional plotlines. Sadly, this did not make the movie better or more original. I can’t believe that the feature premiered 6 years ago and I also don’t understand how the Hollywood took so long to make the 2nd film, especially when the sequel’s sole purpose was/is to capitalize on the first film’s success a.k.a. the box office haul of 1 billion dollars. The only thing that I remember from the first movie is actually the theme song by Avril Lavigne. Don’t think that that’s a good thing.Alice_in_wonderland_poster_2_1_original1

Alice Through The Looking Glass

From the trailer, the movie seems fine – more of the same stuff that we saw in the first film, although the sequel seems even darker. I, once again, like the theme song from the trailer – White Rabbit by Pink. The inclusion of Sascha Baron Cohen is also an interesting choice – it reminds me of Scorsese’s Hugo. I really like Baron Cohen in theatrical roles like this one, but I can’t stand him in comedies like Bruno or Borat. Burton will only be producing Alice’s sequel, but his creative influences will definitely be felt. In September, Burton’s directorial work for 2016 – Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – will premiere

Books

Back in the 19th century, Lewis Carroll published two books about Alice:  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, its sequel Through the Looking-Glass. Although the movies share their names with the books, the motion pictures are not direct adaptations of these stories. Both films have taken bits and pieces from the two books while also adding some original material. As a child, I remember reading Carroll’s first story and I still have my edition of Alice in Wonderland.

What are your hopes for the film? Are you even going to see it? Is the market over-saturated with live-action fairytales?

Bye!

Movie review: Rise+Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Movie reviews

Hello!

I remember watching Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes as a child and not sleeping for a few days afterwards. With these bad memories from childhood I decide to challenge myself and try the newest Apes’ edition. I hope you enjoy my reviews!

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011).

From quite inexperienced director Rupert Wyatt comes this science-fiction reboot of the beloved franchise. I have seen Tim Burton try to do justice to this series but unfortunately I haven’t seen the original one. I probably should watch it.

Speaking about Rise I really liked this movie. 

James Franco, in my opinion, is one of the greatest actors nowadays and I always enjoy his performance. He fits perfectly in this role as a scientist and a loving son. I felt an emotional connection with Caesar through him.

The film has an amazing premise and it also shows that humans and apes are not as different as we might think.

Human kind is always using animals to try out medicine, makeup and all kinds of stuff and it is no surprise that apes are not happy about it. The movie shows that everything that happens is people’s fault and that they are to blame for all that madness. Apes are just avenging their own kind. And you cannot argue that revenge is not a human emotion, so as a result, you can’t see apes as villains. In this case, they are more like victims, even thought, they are killing humans.

From production point: monkeys jumping though windows looked super cool. Caesar speaking for the first time was such a powerful scene. Action was also great – not too overboard, stayed quite realistic.

Other notes: Young Caesar was such a cute monkey. What is more, I do not know who I hated more Draco Malfoy in HP or Dodge Landon in this movie (both played by Tom Felton). I guess props go to the actor behind these characters – he knows how to provoke strong feelings, particularly hatred.

The first half hour of the movie was super positive and then everything went sour. The first hour and the second half hour are completely different parts of the movie – everything just changes so quickly.

One last thing: Monkeys’ voices are super intimidating and annoying, though, I have a huge interest in them as animals or perhaps I should say as creatures almost equal to human race but exciting and unique in their own way.  

When I had finished the movie I realized that I have seen it before, probably in the movie theater when it came out. However, I enjoyed it as much as the first time around. Rate 4.5/5

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

I have finally found the time to see this movie.  I really enjoyed it but I also have some criticism.

Short summary: The movie picks up 10 years after the events of the first film. Apes are living peaceful life in the forest while humans are destroying themselves with the virus that made apes smarter and also there is a general chaos in the whole wide world. The events of this movie start with a group of people that try to find a dam to produce electricity in the apes’ forest. By accident one of the apes is killed and the Dawn stars.

Let’s start with negative stuff. To my mind, the beginning of the film was too slow and overall the first hour was kinda boring to me. It was interesting to see the culture of apes but the human problems with electricity was the weak spot. And all the human characters were overpowered by apes. Mainly by Caeser and Koba.

Andy Serkis is a genius at playing motion capture characters. He gains a lot of money for his work but he definitely deserves every penny he gets. And he also deserves at least an Oscar nomination if not the win. I wish the Academy would recognize motion capture actors as other ‘real ‘ones.  Of course, we also need to talk about Koba played by Toby Kebell. He was the scene stealer of the century. The plot was pretty slow at first but in the end the movie surprised me in the good way. All the CGI effects and motion capture were amazing as I have previously mentioned.

I loved that the movie got deeper into the theme that humans and apes are alike: they have the same father-son problems, fights growing up; they care about their family and home. My favorite scenes in the movie were, of course, the ending shot of Caesar’s eyes (I also loved the fact that all the apes had human like eyes) and the full circle shot with Koba on a tank. That was really well done.

In comparison with the first film, I think that it was stronger than this one. So Dawn is 4/5 while Rise is 4.5/5. 

Trailer: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer Rate 4/5

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