The True War For The Planet Of The Apes Is Within Caesar’s Soul

war for planet of the apes poster

The third film in the Planet of the Apes reboot/prequel, War for the Planet of the Apes, is a fitting conclusion to this unexpectedly great film trilogy. The film series follows the emotional journey of Caesar (motion captured by Andy Serkis), the super intelligent chimpanzee capable of speech who fights to defend his kind, while while he grapples with intense moral questions. In this film, Caesar is an embittered and weary leader who finds himself fighting a very different kind of war.

Taking place 15 years after the first film, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, this film opens with Caesar and his band of super smart apes besieged by human military forces in the thick forests of the west coast U.S. During the trilogy a deadly virus wiped out most of humanity and apes rapidly evolved to have human-level intelligence. Both humanity and apes are in dire straits. Caesar only wants his kind to be left alone, while the desperate humans see the apes as a threat to their dominion of the Earth.

Tragic events lead to Caesar undergoing a dark metamorphosis where he has come to hate humanity as vengeance rules his heart. He sets out on his own to hunt down the human responsible for his misery, a crazed soldier known as the Colonel (Woody Harrelson) that leads a rogue military unit. However, his closest compatriots, which include the gentle and wise Maurice (motion captured by Karin Konoval), an orangutan,  refuse to leave his side. During their journey, they come across two new and interesting characters, Nova (Amiah Miller), a young mute human girl, and Bad Ape (Steve Zahn in a motion capture performance), a nearly hairless and humorous chimpanzee who is also able to talk. Both characters in their ways represent the downfall and promise of both species. While both Nova and Bad Ape’s arcs were fascinating to watch, Caesar’s emotional turmoil is the heart of this film and that is where the real war rages.

maurice and nova

Without giving too much away, the film’s title is misleading. War for the Planet of the Apes isn’t an action-packed military film with epic battle scenes boasting large armies. There are some well choreographed battle scenes, but this film is more of a meditative drama that makes viewers think about the moral complexities facing Caesar. It is disheartening to see Caesar’s arc from the wide eyed and innocent ape in the first film to an angry and dark soldier in this film. He is not some bloodthirsty savage and deep inside he is a good being. It is just that sad circumstances have challenged Caesar and he questions how he has changed for the worse. That is the true war in this film, where his soul is the battlefield and prize and it is not clear how this inner battle will conclude. This spiritual conflict define Caesar and makes him seem so…human and is the true highlight of War for the Planet of the Apes.

Of course, the film has so much more going for it than Caesar’s soul searching. The other characters are just as engaging as the lead ape. The Colonel is a truly frightening beast of a man who wants to ensure the survival of his species. What is disturbing to us is that we can relate to his point of view and wonder if we would be as desperate as him if we faced the same dilemma. Unlike the past films, there is less emphasis on the humans as the apes dominate the film. So as a result the human characters are not as nuanced as in past films. There are some other drawbacks to this film; mainly that the plot features some biblical allegories that are a bit heavy handed and telegraph how some stories will play out. But the film’s merits make up for the flaws.

The film boasts the best special effects of all the Apes films. By now, the CGI apes look flawless. There were many instances where it is easy to believe that real apes were used. The motion capture and the special effects are completely convincing. The film is beautifully shot with rich colors and perfect composition as we witness a richly textured post-apocalyptic world that is being reclaimed by nature and the apes.

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However, these merits would not mean anything without the brilliant performances of Serkis and the others. It is a crime that Andy Serkis has not won an Academy Award for his work and he certainly deserves one for this film as it’s his best work. The Academy just has to get over its hang up about motion capture and recognize its powerful artistry, which is this film exudes.

So, how does War for the Planet of the Apes compare with the other films in the trilogy? It is hard to say at this point, but this film holds its own compared to the earlier films, although Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the best one in the series. Nevertheless, War for the Planet of the Apes is a powerful and thoughtful finale to this trilogy that should not be missed.

José Soto

 

 

Kong Rules Skull Island

Kong: Skull Island is new feature film starring the famous giant gorilla, King Kong. It is set up to be part of a new shared cinematic universe that focuses on giant monsters and by itself Kong: Skull Island is quite an exciting thrill ride.

The film opens in the early 1970s as Bill Randa (John Goodman) launches an expedition to an uncharted island surrounded by perpetual storm systems. He is coy about the expedition’s purpose, claiming it’s a geological study, but we find out later his real reason for undertaking the voyage. Joining him is an all-star cast including Tom Hiddleston as James Conrad, a former soldier turned expert tracker, Brie Larson as Mason Weaver, a crusading photojournalist, and Samuel L. Jackson as Col. Preston Packard, the military head of the expedition. Once they and several others make it to the island they incur the wrath of Kong, a gigantic gorilla that strands them on the dangerous island. As the expedition survivors make their way to a pick up point on the island, they meet a marooned, World War II-era pilot, Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) and learn first hand of the true danger of Skull Island: gigantic beasts that are a bigger threat than Kong himself.

Kong: Skull Island is an exciting and brisk-moving ode to those great old monster movies from the bygone era where hapless people are stranded on an island and have to contend with giant monsters. It does what it sets out to do: show us lots of scenes of giant monsters attacking and eating people and there are many invigorating action pieces with Kong that are the film’s highlights. The standout scenes include Kong’s attack on the Vietnam War-era helicopters carrying the film’s stars, and anytime Kong shows why he’s the king of Skull Island. That is any scene where King Kong fights with giant monsters. The creatures are wonderfully unique creations and quite imposing like the two-limbed skull crawlers that are Kong’s main monstrous enemies.

His other chief antagonist is Col. Packard who quickly becomes obsessed with killing Kong after his people are wiped out by Kong. This Ahab-like obsession is the driving force for this character and the people around him while an opposing viewpoint develops from Conrad and some others who just want to get off the island.

Admittedly, Kong: Skull Island isn’t a terribly deep or thought-provoking film and the characters are written on the flimsy side, but the film delivers on what it is supposed to be a fun giant monster film. Even then, some characters do stand out and that is largely due to the star power of the actors playing these roles. The standouts include Reilly, who provides quirky comedy relief though he does have a sad backstory, Hiddleston turns out to be a hard-fisted action hero, while Larson, Goodman and Jackson do their best with their limited roles. The only other gripe about Kong: Skull Island is that it doesn’t feature any dinosaurs. Aside from a triceratops skull, there isn’t a t-rex or other prehistoric monster to be seen. But in the end, the creatures conjured up by the effects them makes up for this. By the way, the creature effects were well done as were the production values and the film’s groovy early ’70s soundtrack is a plus. Any giant monster film that features Creedence get bonus points!

Of course, the real star of this film is King Kong himself. The film wisely let the big ape hog the spotlight and there are plenty of scenes featuring him to keep the film moving along briskly. Even the moments when Kong isn’t fighting humans or other monsters are awesome and there is a well thought out sense of scale to his enormous size.

kong vs skull crawler

 

Kong: Skull Island is an entertaining giant monster film that might’ve been a better fit for a summer viewing. Some critics are being unfair to this film with their complaints. But don’t let that stop anyone from going out, turning off their brain and worries, and enjoying themselves with this giant monster romp. Bottom line, this film delivers many great Kong action scenes of him stomping and smashing monsters and puny humans, and that is enough to keep any giant monster film fan entertained. And stick around for the post-credits scene that promises an eagerly anticipated meeting of Kong with the other great giant monster.

Waldermann Rivera

Jurassic World Dominates The Summer

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For the third weekend in a row Jurassic World is the box office champion having beaten off challenges from Inside Out and Ted 2. To date the film has earned $500 million in North America (and over $1.2 billion worldwide) making it the biggest film hit of the year, which is an amazing feat considering it’s the fourth film in a disregarded franchise.

Think about it. Of the three Jurassic Park films, only the first one is considered a classic, while the two that followed are seen as inferior, even though Steven Spielberg, the director of the first film, helmed the second one. The last film, Jurassic Park III, came out fourteen years ago and is a weak entry in the series. With such diminishing returns, the amount of time since Jurassic Park III came out and the thin credentials of Jurassic World’s director, Colin Trevorrow, not much was expected of the fourth film.

In fact, when the trailers first started making their way through the Internet, many kept snarking about how fake the dinosaurs looked and how dumb the idea was that the film had trained Velociraptors. The Summer of 2015 was supposed to belong to Avengers: Age of Ultron, remember that film? Well, to say that Jurassic World defied expectations is a gross understatement.

The question is why is it so successful? There are many reasons and theories. There’s nostalgia for the first film, which has endured for all this time and broken gyronow the second film has come around to being recognized as a worthwhile sequel. So the public appetite was there for more adventures at Isla Nublar. Another reason has to do with the universal (no pun intended) appeal of dinosaurs. Out of a crowded summer schedule filled with superheroes and explosions, the sight of majestic and deadly dinosaurs was welcomed by those wanting something different. This leads to another reason; maybe the public is getting tired of superhero films. Avengers: Age of Ultron was over-marketed just like last year’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and although it was a huge success it didn’t match the original film in terms of quality and box office returns. The likely culprit for that has to do with that film’s merits and word of mouth. Then that leads to a final point, the word of mouth about Jurassic World and weaker-than-expected competition gave the film legs.

irex rampageBut the underlining reason for its success is that it’s a downright fun and well-made film. Jurassic World doesn’t have any pretensions and it isn’t a perfect film, but it accomplishes what it was supposed to do, being thrilling and entertaining. The textbook example of a summer film. Some may think it’s too early to declare Jurassic World the King of the Summer, but consider what’s left; Terminator: Genisys, Fantastic Four, Pixels. Seriously, can anyone expect these films to fire the imagination? Maybe Ant-Man and Minions will be contenders, but as of now Jurassic World rules the summer!

Waldermann Rivera

 

Jaws: The Film That Changed The Summers

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Forty years ago, on June 20 to be exact, Jaws premiered in theaters and forever changed the summer film environment. Before Jaws came along and scared recreational swimmers out of the waters, summer film schedules were filled with lightweight, forgettable fare. Most often they were aimed at children who needed something to do in the summer. The theaters were terrific time killers and babysitters for parents so off the little ones went. Though there have been big hit films that were released during summers none of them had the effect that Jaws had.

Based on the eponymous novel by Peter Benchley, Jaws was a one of Steven Spielberg’s earliest films and a breakout hit for the then-young director. A nature/horror film, Jaws was about a New England beach community being terrorized by a monstrous great white shark that decided to use the sleepy town’s popular beach for a feeding ground. The novel was terrifying enough, but the film brought the visceral horror of the shark to vivid life and stating that it was a huge hit is an understatement.

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As someone who was around when the film first came out, I can testify that the film was a genuine blockbuster. There were literal lines of anxious moviegoers that went around blocks waiting to see this film. In this day and age of multiplexes that jam several theaters with the same film, this is unheard of. Sure, there would be a line, but usually that would be on opening weekends and they hardly snake around blocks like in the old days.

As with many films since, Jaws tapped into the public consciousness in a certain way and the film had a distinct impact past the movie theaters. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so positive. Aside from the ripoff horror/nature films that followed (Grizzly, Orca, Tentacles, etc.), sharks received a very bad reputation and people went out of their way to hunt down and kill the aquatic predators, bringing down their population. People were terrified of going into the water. Their overactive imaginations kept playing scenarios of them becoming shark attack victims. This fear still persists today, but it’s more balanced as we celebrate Jaws’ 4oth anniversary.

Jaws is so revered thanks to the skills of Steven Spielberg who assembled a topnotch team both in front and behind jaws castthe camera. Who can forget the stellar performances by Roy Scheider as Sheriff Brody, the everyman law officer out of his element? Or Richard Dreyfuss as Hooper the hippie marine biologist who clashed with Quint, the salty fisherman so terrifically played by Robert Shaw? The conversations and arguments between the three are beloved and often copied and honored by other films. The line uttered by Brody when he first sights the humongous shark “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” is beyond legendary.

That scene itself sold the film for me as a youngster. I actually screamed and ripped up my popcorn bag when the shark first popped it’s mechanical head out of the water as Brody was shoveling chum into the water. I never expected to see the shark because I thought that all that would be shown was just a fin. Yes, the shark is an obvious fake, but no one cares. Spielberg, stuck with malfunctioning shark robots, was forced to make do with less and it worked. So when the shark finally appears in the gripping final act, we the audience are both relieved at having finally seen the white terror and invigorated by the music, the editing and camera work. Again, Spielberg is rightfully credited for using John Williams, who came up with the famous film score, Verna Fields for the crisp editing and Bill Butler for the beautiful cinematography.

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It’s hard to imagine how the film would’ve turned out if another director was used. And remember the film was so plagued with problems that Spielberg was almost fired. It’s a good thing that didn’t happen.

With Jaws’ success (it was the number one movie of all time until Star Wars came along), film studios realized what a gold mine the summer season was and soon enough we began to see the big-event films coming out in the summer. That pattern is still in effect today and will likely stay that way for a long time. Some snobs may decry this and proclaim that these blockbusters are for empty-headed masses. They’ve tried to blame Jaws for this, but they overlook the fact that Jaws is simply a great, edge-of-your-seat adventure film. That is why it has endured and I’m thankful because without Jaws we wouldn’t have so many memorable summer films.

Waldermann Rivera

 

 

 

Jurassic World Proves That The Jurassic Park Series Isn’t Extinct

JW poster Jurassic World is what a great summer film should be! After the disappointments of Avengers: Age of Ultron and Tomorrowland, Jurassic World comes roaring along and shows everyone the meaning of the term summer blockbuster. It’s everything that a film of its type is supposed to be: exciting, awe-inspiring, adventurous, and sprinkled enough with messages to go with the popcorn. It’s rather amazing to think that the fourth film in a franchise would reinvigorate it especially when the last film in the franchise, Jurassic Park III, signaled that the film series had run its course. Jurassic World takes place over twenty years after the first Jurassic Park. That failed dinosaur theme park from the first film has been reborn as the mega successful Jurassic World. Yet, despite the park’s popularity, the owners are concerned with keeping the park profitable. To remedy this, some bonehead comes up with the idea of genetically creating new species of dinosaurs as if regular dinosaurs weren’t spectacular enough for the masses. mosasuarActually this train of thought is bored easily. A case in point is when two of the film’s young characters Gray Mitchell (Ty Simpkins) and his older brother Zack (Nick Robinson) visit the park. In one valid in the film. One observation made by the film is that our society is rather fickle and scene they’re at an aquatic stadium similar to what we find in SeaWorld. The star attraction is a huge Mosasaurus , while Gray is excited to see this gigantic leviathan chomping on shark bait, Zack is distracted with his smartphone. That is so true with many people today, they’re only interested in what’s next. And it’s this mentality that leads to disaster in Jurassic World. The two siblings could’ve been your typical annoying kid characters, but they actually work. Through them, we empathize with their wonder and vulnerability. One of the best moments is early in the film when Gray first enters the park. The famous John Williams score adds to the rousing feeling as he takes in sweeping views of the world-class resort. We don’t see any dinosaurs but the scene is supposed to evoke the joy and wonder that a young child has when first panicvisiting a theme park. Think about it, when first entering these parks, a visitor doesn’t automatically see the star attractions, but the visitor is mesmerized by the architecture and the promise of what’s to come. Director Colin Treverrow is able to convey this POV and makes us wish the park actually existed. Later, when the boys are imperiled by rampaging dinosaurs we feel their fear. Some of those tension-soaked moments come close to rivaling what Steven Spielberg accomplished with the early Jurassic Park films. Even though he can’t capture Steven Spielberg’s magic touch with the camera, he gives it his all. irex pteros Anyway, to keep enticing visitors the park’s owners have a new dinosaur created in their labs, the Indominus rex. It’s a mean, pale, towering behemoth that is a Tyrannosaurus rex and Velociraptor mix on steroids. As in the first film, the scientists meddled with nature and in trying to make cooler dinosaurs created a nightmare. The I-rex turns out to be unusually intelligent and lethal. Demonstrating this is how it’s able to use camouflage and trickery to enable an escape from its compound. Once it breaks free, it goes on a sadistic killing spree and murders dinosaurs and humans alike for sport. This isn’t your typical dinosaur running amok. The Indominus rex is one of the best dinosaur creations ever seen on film and is certain to be regarded as a classic monster. By the way it so easily outwitted and outfought humans, it was hard to be certain that the good guys would win. Plus, the film allowed time to have the characters and audience mourn for a dying sauropod, an unfortunate victim of the I-rex. It was a good touch. raptor whisperer However, even though the Indominus rex seems unbeatable, the park’s ace in the hole is Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), an expert Velociraptor handler. He is hands down the best and most interesting character. Grady is cool, savvy, and of course, no one in charge listens to him. Often, he knocks heads with the park’s operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is the Mitchell boys’ aunt. She is the typical corporate shill that only cares about profits. But she changes her ways as the film progresses and she grady and co.finds out that the new dinosaur is out of control and her lost nephews are in harm’s way. The banter between her and Grady was surprisingly funny in a cornball, cliché-ridden way but it was funny at times. There was this scene where she and Grady are tracking the boys and she’s running around the jungle in a business suit and high heels (and it’s film miracle that she is able to outrun dinosaurs in the heels). To show that she is willing to get rough to find the boys, Dearing hysterically adjusts her suit by rolling up the sleeves and loosening her jacket. Some may find all this eye rolling but it worked. The film is chock full of implausibilities like Dearing’s high-heel jungle sprints. Consider that the park’s owner (Irrfan Khan) is the only person capable of flying a helicopter and as CEO is allowed to take part in an assault of the I-rex. Then there is unbelievable fact that the boys are able to jumpstart a jeep left rotting for twenty years with old gasoline! Or how about cell phones and radios that never work when they’re needed? Adding to this is InGen security expert Josh Hoskin’s (Vincent D’Onofrio) outlandish idea to weaponize Velociraptors. These are not guard dogs but unpredictable wild animals as he soon finds out. Still it was an interesting subplot about the military applications of genetically created dinosaurs. This could be a direction that a sequel can explore. raptor dogs One of Jurassic World’s best features were naturally the Velociraptors that Grady handled. Through hard work, he has limited control over the dinosaurs, but it’s precarious. Nevertheless, one fist-pumping moment is when he takes off in a motorcycle at night to hunt the I-rex and the raptors join him like a pack of dogs. Unfortunately, it all backfired for the humans because being that the Indominus rex was part raptor it was able to assume an alpha role and had the raptors attack the human hunters. But despite their betrayal, the raptors, led by one called Blue, in the end turn on the I-rex in the climax. And boy was that one epic battle, especially when Dearing unleashes a Tyrannosaurus rex to join in the fray. It was a tribute to those epic kaiju films where monsters like Godzilla, teamed up with Rodan and others to fight Ghidorah. That fight had one of the film’s final messages which was by working together two different parties were able to survive. Jurassic World is a great gem of a surprise. It may not be in the same league as the Spielberg films, but it’s a tremendously enjoyable romp that shows that the world of Jurassic Park still has much to offer viewers. José Soto