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Looks like it'll be a damn good year for science fiction!
This list is roughly in order, though it's far more solidified near the top than it is in the honorable mentions area.
Note: As the year's gone on, I've discovered upcoming films continuously. I don't know how the hell to structure this list anymore. I wanted to do it in order of most-to-least anticipated, but my anticipation for films changes constantly, and it's hard ranking one's I've seen with newer additions. I might just arrange it chronologically. . . .
I will still let myself add films throughout the year though, and I'll update the descriptions with my thoughts once I've seen the film. I'm also aiming to write and link to full-length reviews in the descriptions. I can't promise I'll write one for each and every title, but I will for certain if I see it in theaters.
Also see. . . .
IMDb’s 2015 Oscar Highlights
This list combines the subjective quality of each film with my aesthetic sensibilities. They are loosely ranked.
Watchlist: • Cavalry • Force Majeure • Goodbye to Language • Ida • Inherent Vice • Love is Strange • Mr. Turner • The Tale of the Princess Kaguya • Two Days, One Night • We Are the Best!
IMDb’s 2013 Oscar Highlights
This list combines the subjective quality of each film with my aesthetic sensibilities. They are loosely ranked.
Watchlist: • Holy Motors • The Loneliest Planet • Moonrise Kingdom
The titles on this list are very loosely in some kind of order of anticipation, though there's a slight emphasis on newer shows.
Primarily this list is to help me keep track of where I am with the shows I'm watching.
Also see. . . .
IMDb’s 2014 Oscar Highlights
This list combines the subjective quality of each film with my aesthetic sensibilities. They are loosely ranked.
Watchlist: • All is Lost • Before Midnight • Captain Phillips • The Great Beauty • The Immigrant • Nebraska • Short Term 12 • This is the End • The Wind Rises • The Wolf of Wall Street
IMDb’s 2008 Oscar Highlights
This list combines the subjective quality of each film with my aesthetic sensibilities. They are loosely ranked.
Watchlist: • Across the Universe • The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford • Before the Devil Knows You're Dead • The Bourne Ultimatum • Eastern Promises • Into the Wild • The Orphanage • Persepolis • Superbad • Timecrimes
IMDb’s 2011 Oscar Highlights
This list combines the subjective quality of each film with my aesthetic sensibilities. They are loosely ranked.
Watchlist: • Animal Kingdom • Another Year • Enter the Void • The Illusionist • Marwencol • A Prophet • Somewhere
There's a handful of ones that look like they'll be down my alley. Hopefully there will be some surprises that aren't on my list as well, though the current lineup doesn't compete with 2017's output (so far, and that's a premature assessment). On the other hand, it looks like it'll be an outstanding year for film music. So yeah, we'll see what happens.
Most anticipated musical scores: • Solo: A Star Wars Story - John Powell & John Williams • Incredibles 2 - Michael Giacchino • Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald - James Newton Howard • The Darkest Minds - Benjamin Wallfisch • The Grinch - Danny Elfman • The Nutcracker and the Four Realms - James Newton Howard • Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom - Michael Giacchino
Also see. . . .
IMDb’s 2019 Oscar Highlights
This list combines the subjective quality of each film with my aesthetic sensibilities. They are loosely ranked.
Watchlist: • Birds of Passage • Border • Black Mirror: Bandersnatch • Cam • Capernaum • Happy as Lazzaro • The Land of Steady Habits • The Other Side of the Wind • The Ritual • Suspiria • Wildlife (Streaming)
2019 Favorite Films (Coming Soon) 2018 Favorite Films <— 2017 Favorite Films 2016 Favorite Films 2015 Favorite Films 2014 Favorite Films 2013 Favorite Films 2012 Favorite Films 2011 Favorite Films 2010 Favorite Films
The Case for Christ (2017)
You're Cheating on Me... WITH JESUS!
Unlike Pure Flix's previous efforts, it's evident that thought was put into The Case for Christ, and not just through residual elements from the book. For instance, the cinematography is well-done, there's a semblance of style in the editing, and the production design is constructed with intent and care (even if major aesthetic cues are taken from This Is Us). The acting is usually competent to moderately good, and even the musical score is above average (even if clearly temped with the Downton Abbey theme song, or perhaps even Yeong Wook-Jo's score for The Handmaiden, which is no fault of the composer's because they still did a good job). There are production flaws I could nitpick, but fascinatingly, if you strip away the sly propaganda and fundamentalist blind spots then you actually have an astoundingly average movie! It's even seemingly thoughtful at times, making this easily the studio's crowning achievement. But does it hold up upon a closer look?
It's imperative to differentiate between both the author of the original book and the screenwriter who adapted it, since all of the film's thoughtfulness can be presumed as the contribution of the first. I'll commend the source material (assuming it was adapted faithfully), for crafting a multi-faceted narrative with interlocking themes, and I'll commend the studio for telling their first focused story. The film has a beginning, middle, and an end, with elements such as the police shooting and Strobel's relationship with his father serving as parallel narrative lines with clear intent and thematic relevance. Naturally, I don't agree with the arguments behind these narratives, but the studio formed an actual argumentative structure this time and that's a milestone worth celebrating. I'll also congratulate Pure Flix for not using a painfully literal deus ex machina this time (though this probably shouldn't be considered an accomplishment). I mention this because one of the most irritating, scathingly terrible facets of typical Christian storytelling is that instead of having characters evolve on their own, an act of God will change the status quo instead, effectively leading to hollow character arcs and a dubious or muddled overarching argument. Back to the writers...
It's evident that the original story was crafted by someone with a more rounded perspective, but was then re-written by an individual with a constricted capacity for understanding. Lee Strobel is poor at being an atheist, and since it's biographical I can content myself with his inadequate yet very human reasoning skills. Whether or not his quality of character really was as deplorable as depicted however can make a significant difference. If it's not a biographical truth, it's an (perhaps unwitting) practice in the art of offensive stereotyping. No atheist that I've ever met or listened to (who fully understands why they do or don't believe what they do), would say the things Strobel says to his family because of his atheism. The first glaring example is when Lee tucks his daughter into bed, and declares "We're atheists". Though they may be incidentally atheist (categorically speaking), most self-describing atheists would actually be opposed to imposing empirical religious views of any kind on an impressionable child, and would instead take a more agnostic approach, preferring the virtue of possibility and how to assess it from a reasonable standpoint. Lee's wife actually asks about that in the film: they had apparently agreed not to force anything on their child, but Lee dismisses it in a completely unreasonable manner for no reason made apparent by the film. Later on, Lee threatens to leave his wife and children because he can't cope with their sudden, "troubling" turn to Christianity. I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest if this dynamic was artificially introduced in the screenplay, though if it was accurate to the original story then Lee has psychological issues that the film didn't adequately explore. For instance, he only acts like a normal, loving human being again when he's adopted the Christian faith, effectively pinning his character flaws on his atheism rather than, say, his obsession with work or his alcoholism. Besides being a blatant misrepresentation and misunderstanding of nonreligious viewpoints, this film is subverted with negativity towards other perspectives that contradict the attempted message of understanding between people with different views. There's a line of dialogue in the latter half about Islam that hits the nail in the coffin when it comes to a broader sense of arrogance and lack of perspective on the filmmaker's part. The tastelessness here may not be as on-the-nose as God's Not Dead, but it's still there.
Now for the part where the film attempts to construct a solid argument to reaffirm their preconceived beliefs... To be fair, they aren't making up examples out of the blue or fabricating sources of any sort, and what they present does not feel outwardly malicious to me. However, many of their arguments rely heavily on presuppositions, wishful interpretations, and false consensus. For example, several of the experts they consult upon further research were already part of the fundamentalist crowd, and do not represent any kind of authoritative consensus. In fact, the actual consensus I've discovered for most of the film's claims are a resounding "maybe". (In other words, they really don't know.) There's evidence to suggest that Jesus was a person who existed, but nothing solid regarding the resurrection, which they would have discovered had they consulted a wider variety of sources. Regarding the quantity of copies published, I'm simply not convinced. When the Iliad was written, people were well-aware that it was fiction (an astute observation made by my sister), and hence the number of copies made don't apply to some kind of historical accuracy. Furthermore, arguing that the bible is more accurate because it printed more copies is like saying that Fifty Shades of Grey is quality literature because it's a bestseller. I don't have much more to say there, that one just seems apparent. There is still some trickery involved though, specifically regarding how the language of film is used to present their arguments (or non-arguments, as I often found was the case).
To elaborate, there are various instances of pseudoargumentative nature that are rather sneaky in execution. For example, there's an instance early on where someone says "People don't willingly drink poison for something they know is a lie." This part is reasonable, easily true, and inoffensive. Then, he says "If Christians knew it was a hoax, why would they die for it?" THIS however, is a statement that essentially argues nothing. The fact of the matter is, if it WAS a hoax, these people clearly thought it wasn't, or simply didn't know. This statement is at its core a neutral observation of a simplistic sociological function, and serves as a deterrent from an actual point, neglecting to address any details regarding the resurrection or to elaborate on the aforementioned additional sources. Then the film inserts quasi-intellectual music and has Lee reply "Fair point," as though this statement was somehow substantive. If you don't stop to think about it, this scene uses the language of film (application of music, dialogue) rather convincingly to make it seem like they made a point, when in actuality that statement wasn't of argumentative nature to begin with.
It's not hard to find multiple, lengthy point-by-point analyses of the evidence mentioned in the film, and to come to the conclusion that they don't know as much as they say they do. Their claims can generally all be boiled down to eyewitness testimony for events we've never adequately observed, recorded, or seen anything even remotely similar recur. And If you can't adequately explain it, that means you don't know. It's ok to not know things, it really is. A film that teaches otherwise probably shouldn't be shown to children, and in this case even classifies as propaganda. Even if this propaganda is more subversive and of less extremity than the studio's former efforts, I wouldn't recommend this film even for the fleeting thrills of confirmation bias, for Christians and atheists alike. There are of course more pressing matters in life than this one, so regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, remember this bit of advice from Paddington Bear: "If we're kind and polite, the world will be alright."
Without further ado, I'd like to thank my sister who endured this film with me and deserves honorary writing credit. I'd also like to thank IMDb for removing their terribly constrictive word limit on reviews. Really I should just start a website or blog if I'm going to write this much, but for now I'm content with my sporadic and whimsical presence on the interwebs.
Score: A Zeus and a Horus out of Thor
It's A Movie, I Guess
Well, it was either this or Crazy Stupid Love. A bizarre false dilemma to self-impose, I know, but those are the options I gave myself as alternatives to doing something productive. Unfortunately I started taking notes, so many that I might as well write a full review (or more of a"non-review" really, since I kind of stopped caring early on, and hence will take a more casual approach).
Blackhat is a 2015 film directed by Michael Mann, and like most people with most movies (whether they know it or not), I essentially made up my mind about the movie within the first fifteen minutes or so. The movie pretty much stuck to my expectations from there: it's pretty average and unambitious overall, but competent enough. I mean sure, I was pretty bored while watching it, but technically speaking I don't think it's terrible. Had I paid more attention instead of writing this review and practicing piano in between, perhaps I'd find more to gripe about. But really I'm not particularly upset about any of it.
The cast is more or less promising, with Viola Davis by far being the highlight for me. Even with the little she's given to do here she's got a great screen presence (as can be expected from her). We also get an off-and-on mumblecore Chris Hemsworth, who hasn't quite nailed his American accent but isn't too awkward to tolerate. Leehom Wang is good for the most part, I'd say, though he's got some shaky moments, particularly regarding some haphazard ADR. To elaborate on that...
This movie has some genuinely terrible ADR. It's particularly noticeable during a dialogue scene between Leehom Wang and Wei Tang's characters at the beginning, where it's edited to show as little of their mouths as possible (they do this throughout the movie, actually). It only takes a quick glimpse of someone speaking to hear the audio take a complete detour from the mouth. It's kind of embarrassing. Furthermore, this particular scene at the beginning has the characters speaking awkward, phonetically artificial English when they clearly didn't need to. They could have more naturally and fluently just have spoken Mandarin, and then have applied subtitles (if you oh-so daringly assume your audience has the capacity to read, anyway). Even if speaking English in an Eastern setting was imperative to properly pander to Western audiences, it might have been a good idea to cast actors who were more fluent in English in the first place. Wei Tang in particular sounds like she's struggling with her lines throughout the movie, and it's frankly distracting.
Besides the handling of the ADR (which is a nitpick, to be fair), the directing is competent, if still nothing special for the most part. There are some exceptions, such as the satisfyingly stylized computer visualizations at the beginning, and the frequent inclusion of atmospheric shots (even if they could be wholly removed with little consequence to the final product). Otherwise, Mann composes coherent sequences and blocks scenes well-enough, which I suppose is the minimum expectation. There was of course plenty of room for ambition. For instance, imagine if they showed the hands while coding (it is about hackers after all), putting the trajectory of the fingers on full display instead of leaving the hands off-screen. This, it occured to me, would be a small but particularly difficult detail to execute. It's not something I'd have seen before, and would contribute some technical merit to the production. They didn't do it of course, so I don't suppose we'll be seeing actors boast words-per-minute statistics on resumés in the near-future.
From what I know the screenplay is based more or less on real events/circumstances. Though I don't know the specifics of the actual situation, the script still manages to leave the impression that it was "Hollywoodized". Though I didn't find this to be a particularly painful attribute (at least not as painful as other instances I've seen), I think it's part of what gives this film kind of disposable feel. Even so, it's still beyond me how people can fire so many bullets and still miss their target entirely (perhaps that even works as a metaphor for the movie as a whole). The romance felt a tad forced, and I can't imagine that white man hooking up with an Asian woman sit well in the Chinese market, or at least from the impressions I've accumulated. The pacing was generally fine despite being a tad overlong, and they could have easily trimmed the romance with the bonus of extra international marketability.
The music is functional. Some of the electronic elements sounded cool I guess, and it sets an atmosphere. I'm a big fan of film music sometimes, though this score is neither special enough to praise or bland enough to get upset about. It worked in-context, and I suppose that's all it really needed to do.
I've always considered the word "boring" as more of a non-critique, since it typically has more to say about one's attention span and interests than the movie itself (so I'm not going to hold it against the movie too harshly). Blackhat isn't completely unengaging, but it's not exactly engaging either. I wouldn't have felt the need to preoccupy myself by taking notes if it was. Taking notes isn't inherently a bad thing (it can be a great thing, too), but if I'm doing it to keep myself interested in something--anything at all!--then I suppose something's not working.
Seeing as how most reviews are compelled to be written under the circumstance that one feels strongly about a movie, whether positive, negative or mixed, it's kind of odd that I wrote one for this. I suppose I'm writing for the sake of writing, then. I'd recommend it if you've got time to kill or need some background noise, but I'm pretty indifferent overall.
Score: 6/10? Ah jeez I don't know, who cares?!
This Is Us (2016)
Privileged-People Problems: The Series
This Is Us is a television series created by Don Fogelman, which seems to be fairly popular. I was initially underwhelmed, but I watched the entire first season in to give it a fair shot anyway. It's not all (that) bad, but I was far from enthralled nonetheless. Though it has many moments of charm, This Is Us ultimately feels contrived, clichéd, and emotionally artificial.
I'm writing this review retrospectively (a month or two after finishing), though I took detailed notes and remember it reasonably well. If you disagree with me, all the merrier! It's good to challenge each others' opinions: you don't have to agree or change your mind whatsoever, but the prospect of discussion (or an internal, reflective dialogue of sorts) is welcome unconditionally.
In it's defense, this show isn't all bad: the performances are fine to charming, the characters are empathizable at least to some degree, and there are some neat ideas (such as the non-chronological presentation) that redeem it somewhat. Not to mention that the music by Siddhartha Khosla is fantastic! You might just enjoy it on that alone, in which case: judge it for yourself. But for me, this show was hard to watch. A majority of the problems I have with the show are in the writing and direction, and that's what this review will dwell on, mostly.
For one, the series uses exposition-heavy dialogue as a crutch for functionality. For example, the following is how real people who already know each other DON'T talk in casual conversation: "We've been together for seventeen years," "We're best friends," "I've known you your whole life," etc... They use a lot of "remember whens", and drop detailed backstories in unrelated or otherwise casual conversation, always with a specific amount of years. For one, this sounds unnatural and completely jarring, but more importantly, good dialogue provides insight into characters without having to explicitly state things, and implies depth and history between the characters through nuance. This is not good dialogue. These characters are made of straw.
Furthermore, the characters are basically a collection of tropes, who are only as wise or as foolish in any given moment as the script needs them to be, and follow predictable arcs. That's not anything spectacularly out-of-the-ordinary for television, or particularly deplorable for that matter, but it's still not engaging. Sometimes arcs even feel as though they are constructed backwards, where the most sympathetic aspects of the characters are presented near the end of the season. Though functional within contained episodes, these setups rarely feel meaningful within the wider context of the show. The characters don't have ample room to change, or much of a necessity to do so since the conflicts are fleeting and typically resolved without major development. Within an episode or two of any drama, they're all just peachy again. Conflict in this series is generally derived when the characters' preconceived values are challenged, but rather than a rewarding course of character development, they reach resolve when their values are reinforced, not changed. This is an underlying message in storytelling that I have found particularly unfulfilling. (Most of the time, it seems to me. There may very well be exceptions to this.) For the most part, the show is also afraid to explore conflicts outside of comfortable middle-class-or-higher squabbles, and when they do try to tackle matters of substance, it doesn't quite feel genuine. With these dynamics in mind, the show lacks a depth of character and subtext that would make this more relatable or believable.
From there, the show delves mainly into mediocre television drama, with conventional conflicts and disposable plotlines (it's not as bad as I just made it sound, but I wasn't that interested nonetheless). The main exception to this is the interweaving timelines, which is admittedly quite clever in spite of its distractions. With more inspired execution these reveals could have been more engaging, and without characters that feel tangible the drama ultimately feels artificial. The series still benefits from the medium of television, as in you do get more attached to the characters than you would in movies due to repeat exposure, but the experience isn't fulfilling beyond the screen.
With the direction, I've observed a recurring disparity between what's on screen, and what the director is trying to make you feel. For instance, there is a scene where they try to play the character of Toby off as charming, but the subtext of the situation is him manipulating someone into sex. The subtext of his ulterior motives are ignored, and they expect the audience to go along with it, even playing music over it to try and change the reading of the scenario. It's actually very common for the show to cram in music when it doesn't have confidence in the audience's emotional intelligence. The pilot episode is a good example, where they put in overly-emotional music when Milo Ventimiglia's performance could have carried the emotion even better without it. The use of music in this instance feels like insecurity on the director's part. Not to discredit the composer (the outro music is outstanding, for instance), but the director made poor calls on what the emotional tone of the music should be in many places, ignoring important subtext that made some sequences hard to watch.
My takeaway from all of this is that I'm clearly not the target audience. From now on I'll also probably be more willing to give up on shows that don't grab me within the first few episodes, for better or for worse. I can't recommend this show based on my tastes and values, but go ahead and try it for yourself if this isn't helpful to you. I won't be tuning in for season 2.
Anyway... Merry Christmas?
Season 1 Score: 5/10
This Is Us: Pilot (2016)
Trite & Emotionally Forced, But Not Without Potential (Pilot Episode)
I haven't reviewed singular episodes for shows in the past, and I don't intend to make a habit out of this (it irks my obsessive-compulsive side), but I've got a lot to say here. Bear with me, even though my opinion may not be perfectly uplifting or agreeable. Don't worry, it's not all negative.
So obviously, this show is clichéd, and contains more than its fair share of eye-rolling moments. Some people might have a higher tolerance for that, but given all the praise it's been given I expected more.
The "we're all connected" text in the beginning tries suggesting that there's some kind of supernatural fate/destiny theme in store, which naturally disarms my suspension of disbelief. Then they proceed to rub salt in the wound and try to make it out as though it's a scientific profundity yet to be discovered, by citing Wikipedia. I can see someone pitching the Wikipedia bit to a studio as a joke, or maybe for an absurdist comedy show. . . but it doesn't work here--it's borderline insulting even. They haven't taken it too far just yet. Right now it all fits within the confines of everyday coincidence, and I'm hoping they try to play into that instead, and get some mileage out of reality, unless they can manage to do otherwise more cleverly.
The cast/characters are comprised of mostly pretty people, and even the people who aren't conventionally pretty look made-up, clean, and collected--or at least well within the comfort zone of middle-class suburb-dwellers. It doesn't seem outside the realms of possibility that they'd venture outside of this territory though.
Now for the biggest problem the pilot has: it's forced. The show has two moments that felt real (the "this is real" marketing bit is painfully miscalculated so far), and even then, it quickly undermines the only moments it has going for it by plugging in some clichéd underscore. There's a good moment for example with Milo Ventimiglia in the hospital, where his overwhelmed state with reality was strongly-portrayed, and Justin Hartley's meltdown was borderline brutal. . . but then the music comes in, and it's clear that the show doesn't trust the audience to figure out how they should feel by themselves. This was painfully distracting, and boiled my blood just enough to make a good scene into a loathsome experience. Put more simply, it undermines its few sincere moments by having low expectations from its audience's emotional intelligence.
Speaking of the music, I should clarify that the compositions themselves aren't bad. The end music is really well composed for example, and Siddhartha Khosla's name is worthy of mention, and perhaps eventually quite a bit of praise (I even let the whole musical cue on the DVD's menu play out before I started the episode). The music is however poorly spotted. Moments aren't emotionally earned, and don't respect the audience enough to trust them with an emotional reaction on their own. You can't blame the composer for poor spotting on the director's part, though, so again, the compositions themselves were fine.
The episode does make a few attempts to be self aware, makings fun of forced shows or programs perpetuated on air by low-standard audiences and their mindless consumption. It then proceeds to do exactly what it's trying to commentate on. The sad thing is that it's trying to be self-aware, but bypasses any amount of metacognition that would allow that to work.
The best part is the end of the episode, in which there's a twist/revelation that feels clever, and even exciting. This moment is by far the episode's saving grace, though not enough of one to let it off the hook for the forty painful minutes that preceded it. It probably didn't help that I finished the episode after re-viewing The Return of the King--the most singularly transcendent experience in cinema that I can fathom at the moment, with every frame being wholly emotionally earned and bearing a truly profound catharsis. And boy what a contrast this was!
I'm not prepared to make any accusations, but the current acclaim begs the question of artificially-inflated ratings. I can see how someone would like it, but you'd think that this low of expectations for audiences would irritate a few people at least. Far fewer are irritated than I'd expect is all, I'm not ready to put any stakes in that claim.
As bad as I think this pilot is, I think there's still room for a decent show here. A show is only as good as its high-points, and this is only one episode. I'll put myself through the first season at least before I let myself call a quits.
Here's to hoping for better with coming episodes.
Pilot Episode Score: 5/10
A Poetic Final Chapter
War for the Planet of the Apes isn't the masterpiece I hoped it'd be. As someone deeply invested in the characters however, it's still a highly satisfying, emotionally- profound final chapter for the trilogy. War also compensates for its relative lack of allegory/social commentary with an intricately complex (and rather poetic) character/story structure, adding new merits to the franchise even if dissatisfying others.
I've been studying/writing about the entire Planet of the Apes franchise for the month leading up to my first viewing of War. Down the line (probably when the director's commentary comes out), I'll revisit my thoughts. For now, here are my impressions.
Matt Reeves returns from Dawn with equitable ambition, making this the best-directed of the trilogy, addressing all of my primary issues from the previous film. Most notably, the pacing is better than Dawn's, with the emotional core always at the forefront and never sidelined. This film still doesn't have the unrelenting momentum of Rise, but it never dragged for me, and felt shorter than 2 hours (as opposed to the 2+ hour runtime). This was enhanced by the riveting (but admittedly sparse) action sequences, especially one not far into the film, which had me on edge. The sense of scope was far more realized in this film, venturing through different landscapes while not feeling claustrophobic, and implying a massive new world of unknown territory. Overall this was an ambitious film, but it didn't innovate from Dawn as Dawn innovated from Rise- -at the time shooting in the mud and rain, now opting for a tamer, snowy environment.
Visually, this is nothing short of a spectacle. The (borderline R-rated) Holocaust imagery is genuinely haunting and unsettling, and crafts a unique tone with the sci-fi premise. Chinlund's production design is more enthralling than Dawn's, even if more greenscreen was used to get the result, contradicting the ambitious physical sets from before. The cinematography by Seresin also improves here, achieving some rather interesting shots, if still less engaging than the symbolic photography from Rise. As for the CG, I'm blown away. As good as the previous films were, there were still moments in which the effects were noticeably computer-generated. In War. . . the effects are flawless--so seamless that I never once actually saw "CGI". The effects in here are no less than groundbreaking. Spectacle isn't everything though, as there were various, smaller directorial flaws woven throughout.
For one, the title card didn't match the style of the first two films, and the highlights of the former films' titles felt shoehorned-in. Also consider the distracting Coke truck in the middle of nowhere, and the ridiculously thin layers of snow covering the tunnels. How much effort would it have taken to show the characters digging or mining through stone? I can mostly excuse these smaller flaws on merits of the meticulously- crafted story.
This is the sole film of the trilogy which wasn't written or adapted from a draft by Rick Jaffa/Amanda Silver, who retrospectively had a better understanding of the franchise's allegorical implications than Reeves/Bomback (who wrote this film). Now, Reeves knows how to create a brilliantly-layered story (not sure about Bomback), but his efforts left much to be desired in the way of commentary/allegory. There are clear (and often brutal) allusions to the Holocaust, with depictions of scapegoating minorities for predicaments the accuser is guilty of. In the way of contemporary commentary, the humans are trying to build a wall which ultimately proves useless (remind you of anything?). All in all though, it doesn't reflect the series' core allegory of racism very well, presenting nothing especially insightful or impressive. The final culprits are a handful of "Did they really just do that?" plot conveniences, mainly the tunnels with conveniently placed holes, but where the writing actually thrives in this film is structure.
In War, we're presented with an abundance of reversals/reflections on the former films' themes. Consider that for the first time since Rise, Caesar finds himself in a cage and inciting a revolution. We also see him abused with water, and fed slop. Also consider the dramatic irony/poetic justice of the virus: designed by humans, activating the speech centers/enhancing intelligence for apes, now doing the precise opposite for humans, effectively switching their roles in a quite literal interpretation of Planet of the Apes' core reversal. Additionally, Alpha Omega isn't just an easter egg--it's about this film as the end of a trilogy and the beginning of a vast mythology, accentuating the motifs within the film.
Character structure in War is also impressive. For example, Caesar kills Nova's father. This draws a parallel between Caesar and the Colonel (who previously killed Caesar's family). This turn not only reflects Caesar's disillusionment with humanity, but incites another parallel with his former opponent, Koba. Note that the now-orphaned Nova is a reflection of young Caesar, growing up and learning to sign with the reverse species. The performances are strong all-around, and there's not much new to be said (also I'm butting heads with IMDb's word limit). I'll add that I really enjoyed the tragic/comedic character of Bad Ape, and that Serkis was brilliant yet again.
I still find Doyle's score for Rise to be the best of the trilogy, but Giacchino manages a noticeable improvement from his work on Dawn. Though still simple in orchestration, the music feels far more realized/developed here, and some nice new themes are added to the fold. I would have liked to hear more Goldsmith sensibilities (and Doyle's themes), but what we got was fantastic nonetheless.
Not long after screening this film, I wanted to watch it again. Had this movie integrated more intelligent commentary and allegorical content, this could have been the second masterpiece within the Apes franchise, next to the 1968 film. I just hope that Fox keeps their damn dirty paws off my Apes until there's another story worth telling.
Perspective & Possibility: A Shakespearean Spectacle
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an ambitious, nuanced, commanding endeavor. Though I find more enjoyment in the rampant momentum of Rise, Dawn is admittedly the better film--far more realized in allegory and character, despite falling short of its predecessor on less-consequential facets. Matt Reeves is perhaps the best director we could have possibly received for this film, and his efforts pay off spectacularly.
Reeves is not only a long time fan of Planet of the Apes, but he understands all its layers and nuances (as revealed via audio commentary). Overall, Dawn is more slowly- paced than Rise, yet no less mesmerising. The production design by James Chinlund thrives with history--all scenes but the skyscraper sequence were actually shot on a physical set or location, and the film breathes with natural lighting (including burning down the ape village set for real). There's a constant undercurrent of character-driven intensity from the apes in this film, and a level of technical innovation and ambition that's nigh-comparable to the likes of Avatar and The Lord of the Rings. We're talking shooting motion-capture in the mud and rain, sometimes shooting over a thousand takes, and monumental undertakings in editing. The craftsmanship here is unparalleled.
Director of photography Michael Seresin seems like a perfect successor to develop Lesnie's window/cage motif from Rise, seeing as how "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" highlights his repertoire. Unfortunately, I didn't notice much in the way of symbolic sensibilities besides that of Caesar's face opening/closing the film. Nonetheless, the shots are often beautiful and thriving with scope. The effects by WETA are even more astonishing than before, and there's no competition for their accomplishments here.
I have problems with select aspects of the direction though, such as elements of the combat sequences, but primarily, disparities within overall scope. Part of this film is trying to tell an epic, but another part of it is relaying a humble, transitionary story. That's a compelling idea in its own right, but sometimes the confines of the world got to me--with connective sequences from the ape village to the bridge to the human compound, making the world feel somewhat small despite the massive implications of the preceding pandemic. I'll also admit that though one-handed machine-gun-wielding apes-on-horseback are awesome, it's a stretch of reality. You can reasonably assume they reload off-camera, but still. . . . If anything drags in this movie, it's the battle sequences--as the real focal point of tension is the characters, and these sequences feel like a digression sometimes. Some more minor flaws include a handful of clichés, such as the introductory montage and opening/closing on Caesar's face, though are effective (or even powerful) within their individual contexts.
The initial screenplay was written by Rise's duo Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, later revised by Mark Bomback and Reeves himself when he entered the project. Though the plot's admittedly a cliché (taking after classic westerns), there's still a lot to praise. Foremost, there's the Shakespearean tragedy: Koba and Caesar, the story about two brothers (as distinguished by Reeves), their clashing philosophies, and inevitable betrayal. If you look closely, you'll also find a meticulous illustration of duality: Caesar and Koba, Malcolm and Dreyfus, humans and apes. . . . war and peace. This film is a multifaceted study on perspective and delusions of infallibility, exhibiting an entire spectrum of viewpoints across a spectrum of affiliations, articulating shades of grey that would normally be presented as a false dichotomy. In this we get a series of reversals, such as humans and apes alike struggling to stay united, humans realizing that they are too animalistic, and apes realizing they are too human. All of this is churning inside the beautiful, fleeting moment in which peace is a possibility.
This film also delves back into the franchise's signature sociopolitical commentary, with some light content on gun violence, racism, and international relations. It's still not quite as intricate as 1968's masterpiece, but it's worthy of the Planet of the Apes title.
Rise developed a thriving history behind Caesar that Dawn builds off of excellently. Caesar is a character defined by an internal study of duality: belonging to two worlds, and hence belonging truly to neither, dooming him to a certain sense of isolation. The apes on screen thrive with depth in their dawning civilization, and though apes can't physiologically produce vocalized speech or tears, these stretches of reality are executed mostly tastefully. The human characters however present an interesting flaw, in which I sympathise with them, but I don't especially "care" about them. They work well in their depiction of an emotional reality, and within their role in the film's themes, but they simply aren't as individually complex and emotive as the apes (which was a near-impossible balance to strike in the first place, given the context).
The human performance highlights are Oldman and Russell. Clarke is competent, despite a sometimes dry chemistry with the other actors. The only truly iffy ape performance for me was Thurston, who at times felt emotionally constipated--but besides that, the apes are great! Karin Konoval is delightful and has a touching scene with Kodi Smit-McPhee. Kebbel delivers a heartbreaking performance as Koba, exhibiting a perfectly messy fusion of hurt, anger, restraint, and obsession. Serkis is truthfully just as riveting without the CG, having seen behind-the-scenes footage. He's an incredible motion-capture actor because he's an incredible actor. That's all there is to it.
I don't like Giacchino's score as much as Doyle's (and I really wish he made an effort for thematic continuity), but it's still better than your average film score. The orchestration feels a little thin at times, or like a score to an animated movie, but the darker segments are fantastic--especially where Giacchino delves into more avant- garde, Jerry Goldsmith-influenced sensibilities.
This is easily one of the best Apes films, and is solidifying what's looking to be one hell-of-a trilogy.
An Electrifying Prelude & Rousing Character Study
Rise of the Planet of the Apes isn't an allegorical powerhouse like the 1968 classic, though it's still substantially more realized than 2001's abomination. What impresses me about this film however (and makes up for its comparative allegorical thinness), is its remarkable complexity as a character study. Spectacular action aside. . . . this film blew me away.
Rise is directed by Rupert Wyatt, and despite his relative lack of experience yielded spectacular results. This film has an unprecedented sense of momentum: everything from the montages to the tension to the seamless action leaves me utterly breathless, and paired with its relatively short runtime, flies by and boasts an extraordinarily high rewatchability factor. There are a few dubious edits here and there, sometimes in the cinematography, sometimes in the music, but is otherwise a very tightly shot and edited feature.
The director of photography is award-winning cinematographer Andrew Lesnie, who is more than worthy of mention here. The cinematography throughout is breathtaking, with majestic wide shots of the forest, the ape compound, and the city in general. It's also rather intelligent in its usage of visual motifs, juxtaposing cages and windows throughout in a reversal on expected themes. Here, the windows represent false hope/freedom, and the cages represent incitement for revolution. My only issue in regards to cinematography is the "face falling on the camera" motif, which though interesting, is a little dubious. Thankfully, it's not obnoxious in context. Lesnie was actually DOP for the Lord of the Rings trilogy (which explains a lot), though he isn't the only carry-over from Middle Earth.
The special effects by WETA Digital are magnificent, and are some of the best out there. Though if you've acquired an eye for CG then you'll still notice it here in select instances. One potential mistake I caught is that the size of Caesar's eyes sometimes appear inconsistent, though that could be a misperception. It gets better in the follow-ups, but this film still boasts some of the best-looking apes in cinematic history.
The screenplay is by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, and despite its simple plot, features compelling concepts throughout. Though not an allegorical heavyweight, the revolution on the bridge appears to be modeled after civil rights movement race riots and even contemporary police brutality, though it's not anything as profoundly realized and intricate as 1968's masterwork. Commentary on animal rights/testing ethics are also present, though it's the obvious choice and hence isn't particularly impressive. To the film's credit, the ape revolution is now more believable than it was in the original movies, with a sci-fi premise that bends reality no more than it has to.
The film still has its fair share of fun with delightful easter eggs for fans of the original, but more importantly presents us with a character worthy of study. Caesar is an exploration of duality and isolation. For one, Caesar is set up with a dilemma in which he has seen the good and bad of both apes and humans, inciting an inherent internal conflict which he does not yet understand. On the other hand, he is the only one of his kind. As the only ape born with the enhanced intelligence, he feels a certain kind of isolation. He's a character of two worlds, doomed not to feel at home in either of them. This kind of intelligent, complex character writing creates various avenues for subsequent films, and makes the film for me. One flaw worthy of noting is the dialogue, which at times is a little clichéd, and could have benefited from another read-through or two. The best characters in the film didn't actually need much dialogue though, so it's not as detrimental as it could have been.
The characters/performances are a little mixed in quality, but overall positive. The apes across the board emote spectacularly, enabling the audience to understand and sympathise with their characters without the need for dialogue. Andy Serkis in particular (another Lord of the Rings carry-over) is phenomenal as Caesar. His performance is the the epitome of physicality and expression, synchronously nuanced, powerful, and heart-wrenching. He nearly had me in tears at several moments throughout the film, masterfully unveiling the complex internal tragedy of his character.
First thing about the humans: James Franco is not the main character--apparently there's been some confusion there. He serves but as a transitionary lead, since the story is clearly about Caesar. That being said, Franco is fine in this film. I don't know if I've seen him better, but he's competent. Many of the other human characters (though good in their roles), are simply fulfilling archetypes. I quite enjoyed Brian Cox, Tom Felton, and David Oyelowo, yet they weren't any different than what I expected them to be. John Lithgow however is fantastic, and Tyler Labine as Franklin was very likable. Freida Pinto is fine, albeit kind of unnecessary and highlighting a lack of female characters with comparable depth to the male ones. That being said, the supporting characters we did get were sufficient, and it's better not to force in characters for the sake of a quota.
The musical score by Patrick Doyle succeeds brilliantly on a melodic level and proves to be quite memorable, despite bearing an almost-formulaic epic-inspirational style. It doesn't compare on the avant-garde spectrum established by Jerry Goldsmith, but provides propulsive percussion nonetheless, and serves the emotional, character- driven narrative excellently, better than most films of its decade I dare say.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is one of my very favorite action movies, but like most of my favorite action movies, it's actually far more than that. There are layers in this film from the intricate focal character to the intelligent, motivic cinematography, and it sustains the kind of intelligence that made Planet of the Apes great in the first place.
Jeff! This is Earth!
Year after year since the 1968 classic, Fox was determined to milk the franchise dry. So they did. Return to the Planet of the Apes is one of the laziest, most contrived productions I've ever seen, yet at the same time I was wildly entertained. I'm not gonna lie: this show had me in stitches.
To me, this show is the embodiment of the "so bad it's good" effect. Across the board, almost unequivocally, it's apparent that ZERO effort went into making this. Fox wanted money from kids, so they made a series of cheap advertisements. It's that simple.
As far as direction goes, they clearly tried to model the introduction off of Schaffner's direction from the 1968 film. However, revealing Ape City at the very beginning defeats the point of the long, drawn-out opening sequence, and effectively undermines any tension they would have had in its reveal. Further into the show, we are constantly bombarded with repetitive sequences of certain frames/animations, re-used in succession to create a kind of pseudo-tension, and above all to fill that runtime in the most cost-effective way possible. Besides that, you'll also get a good dose of still frames and bizarre zooms that get all snug-and-intimate with any given character's gawking, featureless face.
First thing you'll notice in regards to the writing is that continuity flies straight out the window into the blistering inferno that is the vague assembly of a plot--which is a bizarre amalgamation of non-sequiturs and fever dreams--most likely developed via the spinning thingy from a Twister ® game box. The episodes aired out of order, though even then the series is evidently trying to build off of the events of the first two films, bringing in Zira, Cornelius, Zaius, Nova, Brent, and even mentioning Taylor. They just seem to ignore that Nova died, and that the earth exploded, and how technologically advanced their society was, etc. . . . It's painful, really. Even when you watch the episodes in order (effectively establishing a bare-minimum level of continuity), the most bizarre nonsense comes into play, including: giant spiders, sea monsters, prehistoric dragon-birds, King Kong rip-offs, unicorn-bison (wait, really?), pimped-out airplanes, and the obligatory race of subterranean mutants. To think that this is somehow related to an allegorically-dense, sci-fi masterpiece is bound to disorient some from any sense of reality.
The conflicts within the show are comprised of petty squabbles and schemes of randomly determined significance. Unlike the 1974 series, there isn't enough competency to get by with its episodic nature as mere harmless fun, and it just feels contrived. The wealth of allegories formerly in the franchise are but a distant memory here, and any commentary that does attempt to surface is so devoid of intelligence or even bare-minimum subtlety. This series also mindlessly copies plot points from former entries, such as the "astronauts crash-landing on an upside-down world" trope for the fifth time, and where it doesn't copy, it supplements the plot with a mixture of generic and outlandish conflicts. Imagine something as generic as going out to get fuel, contrasted with fighting a dragon with a hot-air balloon.
The characters are also pretty weak. None of them have much personality with exceptions for characters who appeared in the movies or TV shows, and even then it's misconceived or inconsistent. In former entries for example, Zira is intelligent and headstrong, but in here she's anywhere in between that and worrisome and compliant. Cornelius went from quirky, curious, and reserved to sometimes commanding and authoritative. The astronauts aren't even two-dimensional in character, and the one human female character we do get is gone about as soon as we see her, and then shows up for the second half. The dialogue is even weaker than the characters, with multiple moments in which lines aren't so much as grammatically correct. For example, I'll quote Bill, and maybe you'll notice a basic grammatical error that's unlikely to be made by an educated astronaut: "The truth is, none of us is safe, Zira".
The voice acting is always somewhere between flat, awkward, and outright bad. The line delivery is so misconceived that it often had me erupting in laughter.
Listen. . . . I know animation is hard--even bad animation is tedious, but the animation in Return to the Planet of the Apes is astronomically lazy. I think the animators realized that they weren't getting paid for effort either way though, so they went easy on themselves. Throughout the show you'll find re-used animations and frames, and lead characters with either no character model, or character models directly plagiarized from other character models, and even the animation techniques themselves are inconsistent. I'll go ahead and quote a brief conversation about it.
Sister: "They paid their animators." (Sarcastically). Me: "Did they?" (Unsarcastically).
I do like the background illustrations and colors. There's some nice artsy-styled frames every so often, and some borderline-breathtaking backdrops. Those were nice to look at. But that's about all this show has going for it--that and its music, which is somehow the best part. Composed by Dean Elliott, the score is a generally well- produced knock-off of Jerry Goldsmith's original 1968 Planet of the Apes score, complete with no small amount of 70's cheese. It actually has some catchy moments, and utilizes leitmotifs and themes, which makes it leaps and bounds above the quality of the show overall. Even if badly spotted, there wasn't an opportunity for good spotting anyway. The opening theme is pretty decent too, so I'll take it!
This series isn't offensive enough to get a 1, and though its objective quality is more geared towards a 2 I'm gonna go ahead and bump it up for entertainment value. In my book, that alone puts it at a higher regard than 2001's Planet of the Apes. So I don't know about you, but I had a blast!
Planet of the Apes (1974)
Nothing Profound, but it Makes for Some Harmless Fun
Planet of the Apes (1974) is the first venture into television for Fox's once-lucrative Apes franchise, and despite the mixed results of some of their preceding attempts, managed to churn out an enjoyable albeit short-lived and somewhat mediocre series. It's not an allegorical powerhouse like the 1968 film, but it makes for some harmless fun nonetheless.
The credited creator of the short series is Anthony Wilson, who recruited eight directors and sixteen writers to develop fourteen, forty-five minute episodes. Though you'll recognize one or two characters from this series (Zaius, and maybe Urko), it is part of a separate continuity and shouldn't be confused with the original five-film run. While watching this, I wasn't analyzing it intensely or taking pages upon pages of notes. I just had fun with it. This series can be campy, episodic, and often cliché. Bit it gets to the point. It doesn't beat you over the head with anything. It just enjoys itself.
I didn't catch anything outstanding in the way of directing. It's competent given the material, but nothing that moved or impressed me beyond not being overtly bad. That being said, the cinematography is pretty good for TV, and you'll find some nice shots of the sets and nature scenes. The sets themselves are also well-made and do a decent job of implying a larger, more fleshed-out world. The prosthetics conceived by John Chambers are still generally holding up strong, though a slight decline in quality/care is apparent. The show is overall nice to look at, and complements the adventurous/lighthearted tone nicely.
Among my favorite episodes are "The Trap", "The Good Seeds", & "Up Above the World So High". The first of which places Burke and Urko in an interesting dilemma, and it's cool to see them try to cooperate and figure their way out. It also feels a lot like an age-old fable, such as "The Blind Man & the Cripple". "The Good Seeds" and "Up Above the World So High" are entertaining by sharing interesting visual concepts and delightful humor.
Like most television series this show shares several writers, but doesn't suffer from it very much as it was already episodic in format. This show presents nothing as profound as the original, but nothing offensive either. That being said, it doesn't completely ignore the franchise's core allegory for racism, and features interspecies friendships that explore this theme via metaphor. There's commentary on other things here and there, such as scientific experiments on animals and societal views of science, but nothing too substantial or overtly subtle. The show's meanings abide more so to moral lessons than complexly layered allegories. The series also has some interesting lore sometimes, and has a good sense of humor that's sometimes self- aware of its obscurity. Though, there are flaws.
Pretty much every episode, someone gets captured or hurt and they find themselves in a predicament that they wiggle out of by the end of the episode. There's not much of an overall plot, and character development is generally kept to a minimum. Then there's the fact that the "astronauts crash-land on ape planet" trope is still the core premise, and the protagonists still take awhile to figure out they're on Earth (despite that everyone's speaking English, and that there are humans). The show still greatly benefits from its overall simplicity, so the predominant flaws don't detract much from the ability to enjoy it.
As for the performances, Ron Harper and (especially) James Naughton are pretty funny as the astronauts Virdon and Burke. They're constantly spurting quips and remarks, that though cheesy, are very entertaining. I like McDowall's performance as Galen less than Cornelius, but a little more than Caesar. He certainly sets the air of a curious chimpanzee better than an ape revolutionary, and is a great companion to Virdon and Burke. Booth Colman is no Maurice Evans, but portrays a serviceable Dr. Zaius nonetheless. Mark Leonard is actually very good as General Urko, and keeps his campy villain role fresh. The various supporting roles throughout the episodes are competent for the 70's, and keep the acting overall pretty solid.
The series music is by Lalo Schifrin, Earle Hagen, and Richard LaSalle, with the main theme by Lalo Schifrin. The score overall is serviceable. Nothing too memorable, but it sets the tone and doesn't distract from the action on screen.
The short run the Planet of the Apes TV series had was all it really needed, since its episodic format could have ensured redundancy fairly quickly. For what it's worth, it's a lot of fun. This is by no means a must-watch (except maybe for Planet of the Apes buffs), but if you've got some spare afternoons to kill, then go for it!
Planet of the Apes (2001)
O, So Horribly Inbred!
How do I put this lightly. . . . I loathe this movie with the entirety of my being.
This isn't a Planet of the Apes movie. I can't just turn off my brain and enjoy a mindless "re-imagination" of one of the most thoughtful movies I've ever seen. Watching this movie made me feel physically sick. Writing about it made me feel physically sick. I was literally on the floor. I can't handle this movie. That being said, this movie isn't necessarily an assaulting kind of bad. Some will find entertainment value in it, at least it has a plot, and (generally) it has a nice aesthetic quality. But it's still bad.
Tim Burton is someone who I have a lot of respect for. I think he's a fantastic filmmaker, and more blame belongs to the writers than anyone else on this project. Burton's hands however still aren't clean, and he's committed his fair share of offenses here. On the commentary he actually explains that apes make him uncomfortable (which would explain the apes' performances), and he gave the impression that he didn't want to direct the film in the first place. It shows.
This is one of his weakest efforts in terms of direction. For example, we actually don't get to see all that much of the Ape City--only dimly lit, claustrophobic sets and homogenous formations can really be observed (though what we do see looks pretty good). We get a few wide shots, usually attached to other sets like the forest, adding a kind of close-knitness that detracts from its sense of scale. Making that issue worse, relatively little time is dedicated to travel, so even the military camps and the set from the battle scene don't feel very distant. This simply isn't the best effort Burton could have given, but was maybe the best we could've hoped for given the script.
The screenplay for this film was written by William Broyles Jr., Lawrence Konner, & Mark Rosenthal, the last two of whom worked on such hits as Superman IV! Now, to the writers' credit, at least there's a plot for the most part, but that's about all I can praise them on (if that indeed counts as praise). I'm not really quite sure where to begin with the flaws actually. As I watched the film I started making a list of questions regarding anything that disregarded logic or broke my suspension of disbelief. I can only use so many words, so I guess I'll just post the list:
Why send a baby chimpanzee into space? Or a chimp at all? Humans pulling the carriage instead of horses? Wild humans have the time and resources to curl and dye their hair? Where'd she get that 20th century hair dye? What's with the stoner apes? He's feisty? He just grabbed your leg on accident and looked at Thade all confused- like. Where were the doors in the houses? Why won't the humans talk? They're not mute so. . . . Why'd the one human signal not to talk, then? Do the apes not know they can talk somehow? They didn't seem surprised. If humans are lower on the evolutionary chain than monkeys, why can humans talk but not the monkeys? Are there talking monkeys we don't know about? Were there even any monkeys on the ship they came on? Considering the ship's population, they'd be really inbred by now right? How were the apes in that blast only stunned? Did they see the 1968 film? Did they even read the book? It's closer to the book, but still nowhere near it. Should have just called the movie something else, like: "Inbreeding: The Movie".
A few other points: There's some almost-commentary on religion, but nothing that pans out. Any allegorical content is an afterthought at best. It's tonally unsure of itself: half wants to be taken seriously, half cartoon. Mark Wahlberg's character really just doesn't care, and is too blank to be relatable. The apes might be talking about something expository or of their interest, and then Leo just mentions something unrelated that pertains only to him. It's almost pleading you to assume character depth for it, but you don't because there isn't any. The apes in this movie are completely cartoonish, including their preposterous fear of water (maybe they can't swim because their prosthetics will fall off, as my sister observed).
Mark Wahlberg and the Chimp are pretty damn cute, I'll give it that. Otherwise, Tim Roth is a cartoon. Paul Giamatti is a cartoon. Helena Bonham Carter is a cartoon. The humans are all bland. I suppose the actors are into it enough to pass as flamboyant caracachures. They sell it, but it's for the wrong movie. And I love Paul Giamatti. He doesn't belong in this movie, but I love him.
The wirework is pretty bad. The CGI is fine. Though the sets and colors are nice. If there's one thing I can give Burton credit for it's for making a (generally) good-looking movie. The prosthetics for the most part actually look pretty good, sometimes as good as Chambers' work from the 1968 film. Some of the makeups look out-of-proportion or bizarre though, like stuff conceived on mutations or not-to-be-named perversions-- genuinely concerning designs.
The score by Danny Elfman is simply fine. It's inoffensive, maybe slightly better than the average modern-age film score, but that's not really saying much. At least there's actually a melody (even if somewhat derivative of his Spider-Man score), and as bombastic and obnoxious as the drums are at least they have personality, though it's a far-cry from Elfman's best.
This is not a Planet of the Apes film. It's a movie with apes in it, completely unrelated to Planet of the Apes. If you're a die-hard Planet of the Apes fan, maybe watch it once. Otherwise, seek out the 1968 film. Don't bother with this.
Battle for the Budget of the Apes
Ten years following his revolution and a devastating nuclear war among humans, Caesar embarks on a quest to learn about his parents, and in doing so discovers the future. Battle for the Planet of the Apes is by nearly all means the worst film of the original five (though I've only seen the extended cut, so whether this version is better or worse than the theatrical I am unsure of). After "Conquest", the studio wanted to make a less-violent, less-provocative, and more "family-friendly" film (and for way less money). This resulted in the least-exciting, least-intelligent, and most cringe-worthy final chapter possible.
First thing: I should clarify for some viewers that the apes did not conquer Earth. Many people have pointed out how that wouldn't make sense, and that's because it doesn't, and didn't happen anyway. There was a large scale nuclear war among humans, so the apes moreso "inherited" the planet despite the misleading implications of the films' titles. I digress. . . .
J. Lee Thompson reprises his role as director for the second time with "Battle", and flaws that were only starting to peek into the limelight in "Conquest" have now manifested into their full forms. The central flaw, is overall laziness. For example, the film starts with about five-minutes of reused-footage from the former two films (making it even lazier than the opening shot of "Beneath"). To its credit, there's more reused footage later on that's incorporated more intelligently. Furthermore, there's also supposed to be a three-day journey in the film, but no attempt in editing or direction is made to assist the viewer's perception of passing time. The battle sequences are overlong (which causes them to become boring) and are comprised largely of close- ups and quick cuts. The swindling budget no-doubt influenced these points, but the prevailing lack of forethought/effort should be more than evident regardless.
Paul Dehn returns for his fourth Apes film in a writing role, but this time only for story. The screenplay for "Battle" is written for newcomers John and Joyce Corrington, and is rather capricious in quality. There are yet a handful of things to praise, such as the relationship and parallels between humans and apes, and the commentary on determinism/time-travel presented through the corny and belief-disarming tear coming from Caesar's statue at the end. The most notable strength however is its quotability. For example, the "All knowledge is for good, only the use to which it is put can be for good or evil" quote seemed rather insightful and wise, though within the same vein of this strength lies some of the film's greatest weaknesses.
The film is quite simply unsure of how to incorporate the same sensibilities of its predecessors, such as its allegorical content or theoretical musings, so it resorts to having the characters say the ideas outright in conversation. These ideas are often very interesting, but lose potency when presented in contrived dialogue, which is also at times aggressively expository. Further weaknesses of various trades are present as well, including the jump in Caesar's character development (from one film to the next) with little to no insight or explanation surrounding it, the campy, cringy mutants, and the irritating, preachy, theistic fable format.
Above any other offense though, the nuances of the franchise's central allegory have been sucked dry (along with the budget). The commentary on race has subsided more so in this film than in its predecessors, making way instead for its own internal form of racism. Not enough time has passed since the acquired intelligence of apes to accommodate for the severe class disparities among their society, and instead it comes off as an unintentional statement that some apes are less equal than others. Take for example the accentuated intelligence of orangutans contrasted with the caricatured gorillas, who in this film are basically just violent, unintelligible children. The 1968 film presented a layered relationship between class structure, social structure, and race with nuances and insight, but in "Battle" it's handled so thoughtlessly as to be potentially offensive.
The performances in this film are also at their weakest in the franchise, with scenes causing you to wonder if they actually considered doing multiple takes for anything. The actor who portrays Aldo is bad much of the time, though every so often he accomplishes a decent performance when it comes to menacing stares or general physicality.
Roddy McDowall is again fine as Caesar, Paul Williams is interesting as Virgil, and Natalie Trundy improves a lot in this compared to the former entry (still not a great as an ape, but not distractingly bad either). Many of the actors don't seem to have gotten the hang of acting in the prosthetics, not having fully developed the techniques that the actors crafted in the first film. Austin Stoker as MacDonald's brother was one of the better performers in the film.
The sets are actually very nice, and are maybe the one truly redeeming aspect of the film. The tree-forts and tunnels and location paintings are all exciting and interesting in their own right. The music by Leonard Rosenman however is some of the most lackluster of the franchise. Besides a singular theme that seems to be applied vaguely to "emotional content", the music was either borderline hokey or simply muddy and unmemorable. Upon further deliberation, it seems that this score along with Rosenman's "Beneath" have the least personality of the bunch. That being said, the score is still competent, and I can't hold too much against it for that.
As a Planet of the Apes fan, I've found myself obligated to multiple viewings of this film, and have even found it within myself to enjoy it. So if you're a Planet of the Apes fan, you may have a good time despite its flaws. . . .
But it's still not a well-made film.
The Last Solid Apes Film For About Forty Years
In the near-future (from where we left off), Simian Kind has been enslaved. The evolved ape son of Cornelius and Zira leads a revolution against mankind to emancipate the apes. Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (the "of" should probably be a "for", now that I think of it) is definitely among the better Apes films. Even with various declines in production value, budget, and writing, this entry still maintains enough intelligence to be considered among the "good" apes installments. Also, watching humanity getting their ass handed to them is damn entertaining. I'll often watch this film for that satisfaction alone.
"Conquest" was directed by J. Lee Thompson, who went on to direct the fifth and final entry in the franchise. Despite liking this movie overall, I'm not completely sold on Thompson's direction (foreshadowing, perhaps). Throughout the movie, there are various elements that felt sloppy. For example, there's a jarring cut at the very beginning, from a montage with a full musical score to a scene devoid of music at all-- without bothering so much as to edit the music to fade out/reverberate. There's also some bad ADR, and a handful of those awkward 70's zoom-ins, but otherwise the cinematography is fine. The photography of the city for example really drives in a tone for the film, surrounding the viewer with concrete in virtually every direction. The director also makes a point out of using lots of megaphones and intercoms, making this future feel authoritarian and immobile (both physically and in their dogmatism).
There is however one really potent piece of direction from Thompson, and that is the revolution itself. The scenes of revolt were actually modeled after footage of race riots during civil rights movement, bringing a kind of violent, unnerving reality to this film and a racially charged undercurrent. This film can actually disturb you at times, and it's the film's greatest redeeming quality. I should also credit this film with being the second-most re-watchable Apes movie (the first being "Rise", go figure!), which could be attributed to its fast pacing/short runtime.
Paul Dehn is the writer for the third film in a row, and provides a serviceable amount of intelligence overall despite struggling to keep his act together on smaller details. For example, there are a few basic premises the film presents that are hard to suspend disbelief for. Like the virus that wiped out dogs and cats, the awkward, forced romance between Caesar and Natalie Trundy's Lisa, or how Caesar was unaware of enslaved apes until he got to the city. I mean, it's pretty convenient that Caesar has been shielded from the reality of enslaved-apes for his entire life thus far. That way we can put in extra exposition for the viewer! Small things like just talking about the circus rather than showing it are also a problem. Showing it would have provided a better insight into Caesar's reality and given more emotional weight between him and Armando. I can also see however how that could have come off as silly, and it's evident that the budget was dwindling.
In the long run, you really have to give this film credit for providing a solid foundation for the stellar reboot trilogy about Caesar. Even if Caesar's complexity isn't fully harnessed in this film, it implied a very layered character that would eventually be done justice. Caesar at his best is a character study on perspective, duality, and internal conflict, and there is definitely a presentation of those traits in "Conquest", albeit in a limited form. Also an impressive character is MaCdonald, who is not only likable but complex. There's a part of the movie where he talks about being a descendant of slaves, and this is where the franchises race allegory looks itself in the face. This kind of philosophy will actually help shape the duality within Caesar.
Though the character of Caesar is more complex than Cornelius, this is arguably McDowall's lesser portrayal. He doesn't grasp the full extent of Caesars internal isolation, conflict, and introspection, though he does a good job of reflecting Caesar's anger. Ricardo Montalban as Armando is at times shaky, and there are times when it sounds like he's reading the script for the first time. That being said, he remains charming in his role. Hari Rhodes is stellar as MacDonald, and Don Murray does a fine job as Breck. Natalie Trundy as Lisa is clearly uncomfortable in the ape prosthetics, and is pretty bad, as are many of the ape extras (who inversely seem to be overacting).
I like the costume design quite a bit, since it foreshadows the segregation within the apes' own society. It's a little more minimalistic than the outstanding costume design from the first film, but it complements the industrialistic setting well. The makeup here is not at it's best, but better than at its worst (that works for the whole movie, actually). The dreadful pullover masks from "Beneath" are thankfully gone. There are still lazier ape prosthetics/masks used for the extras when compared to the first film, but there's actually effort put in this time to make sure their eyes aren't caved in and hollow. Without a serviceable budget, it's inevitable that Chamber's makeup would diminish in quality.
The musical score by Tom Scott is actually pretty good. It thrives with a satisfyingly eccentric melodicism, making it a worthy gesture in the footsteps of Jerry Goldsmith.
Despite an often fickle presentation, "Conquest" manages to ride on a handful of strong merits that retain a level of intelligence in the franchise. I may like this film more than most, seeing as how I'm a nihilistic, iconoclastic maniac who finds the downfall of humanity highly satisfying (there might have been a less-scary way to put that), but the film has merits that can be appreciated by anyone nonetheless.
Part Romantic Comedy. Part Tragic Thriller. Somehow, it Worked.
Escape from the Planet of the Apes is an odd one, to say the least. There is a notable deviation in the franchise's tone up to this point, and though some might find it jarring, I found it rather refreshing and overall serviceably intelligent given the ridiculous premise. Though this film almost solely exists via a contrived, greedy studio request, "Escape" manages to be both clever and entertaining enough to pass as a solid franchise entry.
Don Taylor is the third director to helm this franchise, and does a competent job overall. It's well shot in a standard kind of way, but well-shot nonetheless. The beginning has a good reveal, and sets the dual tone of thriller/comedy, which I think Taylor handled well. I'm impressed at how coherent this film is with genre elements from comedy, romance, tragedy, thriller, action, sci-fi, etc. . . . though these genre influences will turn some viewers off no doubt. For what it's worth, I find it to be handled well, though nostalgia likely has a role to play in my ease with it. As for further overall flaws, this installment admittedly can be borderline campy at times. Specifically, the shot of the baby chimp at the end is rather lazily edited (despite being an important plot point). As per usual with these films, the most integral component lies in the writing.
Written by Paul Dehn, who first appeared in the franchise to doctor the Beneath the Planet of the Apes script, this film manages to retain its social commentary with intelligence and more subtlety than ever, whist retaining the franchise's tradition of tragedy. The commentary on racism is as evident as ever, though there's also commentary on bureaucracy, morality, and even animal rights. Something this franchise has done very well (particularly here) is it's diverse portrayal of ape and human characters alike, displaying diverse perspectives and moralities, as though to say that despite looking different, we're all similar. There is never a point in this franchise in which an entire species is scapegoated or deemed as the "good" or "bad" guy--it dabbles in shades of grey, just as real people do.
This entry also works as a very clever reversal on the circumstances of the first film, placing Cornelius and Zira essentially in the shoes of Taylor and Brent. The most notable aspect that portrays this is the trial sequence. This reversal also results in some quirky fish-out-of-water humor, but more notably, a conceptually compelling reflection upon the first film, which in itself was a reflection upon humanity. A reflection upon a reflection if you will, driving the concept to a new level of realization--just like the painter painting himself, painting himself, etc. . . . It fits an overarching theme of infinite regression, which ties into Hasslein's theory of time, which essentially lays the groundwork for the original series' overarching progression. If there's one great thing Paul Dehn brought to this series, it's giving this franchise a clear direction and building a timeline that is intricate and thoughtful, even if at times convoluted or contradictory. The question of how our choices affect the future is present through the remainder of the franchise, though is represented best in this installment.
The writing isn't perfect however. The salvaged spaceship and time-travel premise is a stretch to put it lightly (though given the previous installment, was a better explanation than what could've been hoped for), and the comedic elements are bound to be jarring for many viewers. The character of Milo also isn't as fleshed out as I'd like him to be, which is especially disappointing as he is one of my very favorite characters in the extended canon. They also go into more detail about the salvaging of the spaceship in the comics, but those are the comics: on this front, the movie failed. There is also a bit about Aldo's revolution, and this comes in later as an unexplained plot inconsistency. It can only be speculated about, and the comics provide an almost-explanation at best.
Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter are more endearing than ever as Cornelius and Zira. Zira in particular doesn't get much credit for being such a strongly written and acted character. In fact, I'd say this is one of the strongest female characters I've ever seen on film (and this was the 70's, folks). The human characters often work as reflections upon characters in the first film, and are generally competently portrayed, if slightly gimmicky at times. This film also introduces one of my favorite human characters in the franchise, which is Armando--a wise and sympathetic man played by Ricardo Montalban.
Because of the greatly reduced ape cast, the attention to John Chamber's prosthetics is at its best by default. No longer must we endure the dreadful pullover ape masks! Visually this is probably the least interesting film, though that attributable to the time period in which it takes place, and is understandable.
Jerry Goldsmith returns for his second and final Apes film, and delivers (arguably) the best score of the original five movies. Though his avant-garde score for the 1968 classic is a close second, his work on "Escape" is superior on a melodic and rhythmic level, portraying the underlying weirdness & suspense brilliantly alongside the comedic/romantic elements. I dare say that this is even some of Goldsmith's best work.
"Escape" is no doubt a step up from "Beneath", succeeding in being more subtle with its commentary, and arguably being less-dumb (it's better than mutants vs apes, but the spaceship/time-travel shenanigans are again, a stretch). I'll probably like this movie more than most, though I find it to be one of the franchise's stronger points regardless. This film has a solid recommendation from me, yet one should also consider that this isn't a stand-alone entry, and might have to decide whether they want to engage in the whole franchise first.
Beneath the Planet of the Apes: Literally, in Quality
A sequel to the 1968 masterwork was wholly unnecessary--much less four of them. On the bright side, the sequels eventually became the basis for perhaps the most intelligent blockbuster franchise of the 2010s (and likely beyond). Upon reviewing it with a more critical perspective, the decline in quality here is far more apparent. It does however find redeeming qualities in its allegories surrounding the Vietnam War, even if a little less subtle than its already blunt predecessor.
But at least it was short!
Beneath the Planet of the Apes was directed by Ted Post, and is rather unabashedly a studio movie (made by studio executives for profit as opposed to being made by genuinely inspired filmmakers). The film begins by recycling the last few minutes of the first installment, which partially justifies itself through an extended sequence intended to establish continuity, but for the most part is just lazy.
This film doesn't have the directorial flair of the first. There is little to no buildup for the reveal or journey to Ape City, and we are thrust into the world again without much craft or care. The cinematography is often shaky or awkward, and the action sequences feel uninspired and obligatory. Even the shots of Ape city don't show the scope that the original achieved, I suspect because they didn't rebuild the whole set for budgetary reasons. That being said, the sets in much of the rest of the film are very strong: especially the gorilla training grounds and the subterranean environments--in which the cinematography becomes better, if still not great. Thankfully, it won't beat you over the head excessively with its pitfalls thanks to its quick pacing.
The screenplay for this film saw the departure of Rod Serling and Michael Wilson, now written by producer Mort Abrahams and receiving treatment by Paul Dehn (who would fill the writer's role for the remainder of the original series). It's never a good sign when producers or studio executives start to write your films, but Dehn did a serviceable job considering. While the screenplay has substantial flaws, it also contains the most redeeming qualities of the film.
The most noticeable disparities in screenplay quality were the story and characters. For example, here's a short quote that sums up the role of James Franciscus' Brent: "We loved Taylor." Charlton Heston made it clear he didn't want to return, and though he has cameos that bookend the film, Brent was basically a "discount Taylor". Franciscus however plays a more sympathizable character, which is relayed to us by showing him nursing the other astronaut after the crash. Though less interesting and layered than Taylor (who was a study on existentialism and ego), Brent is more likable (albeit generic), and hence easier to follow.
There's a very notable and very questionable plot decision as well. The mutants could easily have had just made an illusion that covered up the entrance to their hiding place, and the apes would've never found them. Instead, they're daft enough to intentionally create a provocative image, which not only angers the apes, but confirms and gives away their existence. Hence endangering them. Hence destroying the world. I do however like the guts the movie has at the end. It's ambitions didn't always pan out, but at least it didn't shy away from tragedy, which is a tradition that has stuck (thankfully) for much the rest of the franchise.
There's a nice portrayal of hypocrisy in the film, which becomes a theme in the Vietnam War allegory. An instance of this is Zaius telling Cornelius "Let us have no violence", as he prepares to march out with an army equipped to fight the unknown. As dumb as the mutants are, they serve a role in an excellent satire of religion and violence--specifically pertaining to the Vietnam War. There is a noticeable emulation of Vietnam War protest rallies as the troops are marching out, as those in power ignore the civilians' outcry of a pointless war. It is clear that the apes do not really know who the enemy is, and though they won't admit it to themselves, what they are even out there for. The mutants manipulate and use their "weapons of peace" at a distance while others get hurt, yet are spared much of the blame, just like the American government. A quote from Cornelius sums up the theme of powerlessness: "How can we take initiative when they (the Ape Council) hold(s) all the power?" There is also a juxtaposition between the worship of the Apes' Lawgiver and the mutants' Alpha- Omega Bomb, expressing thoughts of religious intolerance and more.
The performances in this installment aren't at their strongest. Linda Harrison is shaky, and the part where she speaks at the end is dumb and breaks basic continuity. Roddy's replacement as Cornelius (now played by David Watson) is noticeably different, and easily the lesser portrayal. There is a degree of quirkiness and charm missing from Watson's version. James Franciscus is inoffensive in his role, and Heston is still playing Heston. Kim Hunter and Maurice Evans are easily the highlights of the film, and maintain their characters' depth.
Notice the pullover masks they used in the film due to budgetary restraints, and how obnoxiously noticeable and laughably bad they were. The mutant makeup is OK, though not as impressive as Chamber's ape prosthetics. Finally, the score by Leonard Rosenman emulates Goldsmith's rather well, and manages to be competent and serviceable to the film even if it lacks a degree of Goldsmith's charm and memorability.
Though this is one of the weakest points in the franchise, this feature is not completely irredeemable, and thankfully still isn't the franchise at its worst. The social commentary maintains a base level of intelligence that makes it worth viewing for fans of the series. Unlike its predecessor however, this is not essential viewing.
Planet of the Apes (1968)
An Intelligent, Brutally Profound Satire
Sometimes there's so much to say about a film that only blanks can be drawn in the unrelenting breathlessness of racing thoughts. Simultaneously entertaining and intellectually enthralling, this film bleeds unforgiving satire with every frame. Planet of the Apes is a cinematic landmark, and it obsesses my entirety.
I'm having to choose my words here with great care. There's so much to write about, and organizing my thoughts to do this movie justice is a challenging task for me. Planet of the Apes has shaped who I am more so than any other film I've seen, and while I can't promise the same profundity of experience to every viewer, the allegorical implications contained within this text persist with potency. Science fiction is arguably the genre best equipped to reflect upon humanity, and this feature harnesses this medium masterfully. This is also by far the most allegorically dense film I've ever encountered: unveiling ruthless commentary on race, religion, philosophy, and politics, in often blunt but always meaningful fashion. Though sure to challenge some audiences in ways that might upset them, I find the content of this film to be of great importance.
It may on occasion be cited as the original summer blockbuster, but more importantly, this film is intellectually enthralling. By reflecting humanity through a society of apes, we're similar enough, yet simultaneously given enough distance to internalize the film's intricately woven analogies. That being said, strong direction by Franklin J. Schaffner ensures a solidly entertaining experience, with exciting action sequences and and some appealing cinematography. Seeing as how this film is strongest in its intellect however, one should really look to its writing.
Though it's been some time since I've read Pierre Boulle's "La planète des singes" (a.k.a. Monkey Planet), I have to give it credit for providing such a rich foundation for this monumental production. The film however, takes the concept even further. If this movie ever felt like a really good, feature-length episode of The Twilight Zone, that's because it basically is--the initial draft that eventually became the film was written by Rod Serling himself, hence the defining twist at the end. The politically charged final product however was by none other than Michael Wilson (The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence in Arabia).
A degree of Planet of the Apes' politicality can be attributed to some of Wilson's background. During the McCarthyism scare, a number of Hollywood screenwriters were accused of being "communists" and were blacklisted from the industry. Wilson was forced to flee to France, and proceeded (as many others did) to write under a separate alias or go wholly uncredited. Upon release, all screen credit for Planet of the Apes went to Pierre Boulle, and Wilson finally received writing credit for his work post- mortem in 1984. Though tragic, it implies that his experience with being wronged by a political system in-part provided a drive for creating this brutally satiric screenplay.
Col. George Taylor is worthy of a more in-depth character analysis, as a study on existentialism, and an experiment on the ego. Consider that this "upside down world" is intentionally perceived by a white male, now stripped of his rights and part of a silenced minority. The social structure of the apes actually provides some stunning race/class commentary, with the darkest of gorillas confined to menial working-class roles whilst the lightest of orangutans held societal power, often in the form of political or religious leadership. This is used to reflect the dangers oligarchical and theocratic societies. This class structure also outlines an overall political dichotomy, revealing its relationship with class, race, and how it affects our ability to perceive. There is also depiction of bigotry, religion, and the war on science, most notably the trial scene that reflects the Scopes Monkey Trial. By repeating fallacious arguments through the medium of non-human characters, the audience is given perspective and may unwittingly realize their own, human flaws.
Charlton Heston deviates slightly from his dignified, heroic typecast, now favoring a character stripped of some of their dignity, but is otherwise just playing himself: Charlton Heston. Kim Hunter as Zira and Roddy McDowall as Cornelius are endearing, and Maurice Evans is unsettling and commanding as Dr. Zaius. What's impressive about the actors who portrayed the apes is that they had to develop acting methods that would bleed through the prosthetics, and they succeed impressively well, exhibiting their spectacular but often under-appreciated talent.
The prosthetic ape makeup by John Chambers is simply revolutionary. The apes in this feature are completely believable evolved counterparts to the great apes we see today, and it was no easy feat. The makeup took four months for Chambers to develop, and then several more hours to apply everyday before filming. The work on this level actually broke records and set a new standard for ape costumes in movies, mirroring the reboot franchise's later breakthroughs in motion capture technology. Planet of the Apes is an innovative franchise at its core, and will likely continue to innovate until the apes take over.
The score by Jerry Goldsmith is avant-garde and enthrallingly bizarre. Though not crafted with the same kind of narrative intelligence that the best film music has to offer, it goes above and beyond when creating textures that are innovative, diverse, and contribute to a memorable and unique atmosphere. Goldsmith's work here is among the best the franchise has to offer.
Above all this film is a study on perspective, and can say more about humans using apes than most films can say by using humans. Planet of the Apes is as meaty as sci- fi comes, and is quintessential viewing for sci-fi fans. It's also pretty damn quotable.
A Heartwarming Story with Ambitious Commentary
"Okja" is the latest cinematic venture by Bong Joon Ho, distributed by none other than Netflix. Of all Bong Joon Ho's films that I've seen, I'd say that "Okja" is most in line with "The Host" (2006) in the sense that it balances a number of ideas and styles throughout its duration. However, I actually like "Okja" a bit more, as it feels far more polished.
I definitely recommend this movie to fans of this director, fans of sci-fi/allegorical films, or anyone who just likes an exciting, heartwarming tale. It's not a perfect movie, but it is good.
**Before I get into spoiler territory: I want to keep something in mind for viewers. This film will be easy to read out as an anti-corporatist, radical, pro-animal rights kind of gimmick. Though there's a good chance you'll see right through this, I want you to keep an eye out for the film's self-awareness in this regard and how it deconstructs this false dichotomy into a more complex, urgent, overarching question. I'm actually very pleased with how the film handled this topic, and I'll go into more detail below.
**From here on out there will be spoilers.
Before I get into the film's story and commentary, let's acknowledge that this film is beautiful. The direction and cinematography is constantly engaging and always stunning to look at. Throughout there are plenty of breathtaking wide shots, satisfying action sequences, and even a few genuinely unsettling moments. Even so, this results in a little bit of tonal inconsistency, though the direction is strong enough to make it a smooth experience.
The screenplay is written by Joon-ho Bong and Jon Ronson (presumably for the English segments), with the story credit going solely to Joon-ho Bong. The bilingual aspect of this film is actually quite pleasing, and it makes for a well-rounded experience. Seeing the cooperation of different cultures in the art of film here is delightful. Fundamentally, "Okja" is a heartwarming adventure of a girl and her friendly beast--but it's also more than that.
This film presents us with a big question that serves as an undercurrent throughout, and that question is: How do we sustain humanity? With over 7 billion people on the planet, and so many of them without food and resources, how do we feed ourselves? What must we sacrifice, and what solutions are unethical/unjustifiable? The film sets up a central dichotomy from here, quite cleverly interpreted through the third-party perspective of Okja and Mija. On the surface, the film's central antagonist is the Mirando corporation. Mirando genetically engineered the super-pigs in an attempt to efficiently combat the starving world, even if such ambitions were only a facade to make a profit. Opposite to Mirando is a small ensemble from the Animal Liberation Front, though they aren't always necessarily the protagonists. Within the ALF's ranks, there is still a degree of violence and deception, making them ironically similar to the Mirando Corporation. Furthermore, both parties neglect a fundamental aspect of a greater problem. The Mirando Corporation more obviously neglects the ethical implications of slaughtering genetically-engineered, unintentionally-intelligent livestock, while the ALF is neglecting the world's desperate shortage of food, solidifying the lack of solutions for either side (at least, solutions that won't get blood on their hands). It's a no-win-scenario, and the movie knows it. If "Okja" hasn't drawn any comparisons to "Soylent Green" yet, well this can be the first.
If the socio-political commentary content here feels like a stretch, the film still functions well on a story/character level. Bong Joon-ho takes steps to ensure that empathy is achieved with the characters, specifically for Mija and Okja. The scene early on in which Okja saves Mija from falling off the cliff works really well in doing this. We see not only Okja's ability to empathise here, but her ability to think and problem solve, driving the viewer to empathise with Okja as we would a human. Mija is shown caring for Okja as well, solidifying two emotionally agreeable protagonists in the film. This actually helps put the audience in the third-party perspective over the primary dichotomy.
The performances are easily the worst part of this movie. Not all of them are bad, but several of them are painfully cartoonish, especially Jake Gyllenhaal. I love you Jake, but that was a bit much. The rest of the supporting cast generally portray caricatures as well, even Tilda Swinton, the subdued Paul Dano, and Joon Bong-ho regular Hee- Bong Byun. To the contrary, Seo Hyun actually gives a fantastic job as Mija, and adds no small amount of heart to the film. She is not only an excellent young actor, but the highlight of the movie.
The CGI was better than I expected from Netflix, not that I've seen enough of this kind of thing from Netflix to have expectations in the first place. My point is, it's still fairly clear that Okja is computer-generated, but not distractingly so. The music is fun/serviceable, though not necessarily outstanding upon first listen. I would have liked something more memorable, but so long as it's not a distraction I won't count anything against it.
Though this isn't Joon Bong-ho's best in my opinion ("Snowpiercer" is my favorite), it's definitely a good film. If you can't appreciate it for its commentative ambitions, you should at the very least have fun with it.
Wonder Woman (2017)
Far Better than the DCEU Deserved (Up to this Point)
I wouldn't call Wonder Woman, as some seem to be doing, "one of the greatest superhero movies of all time", though I'd still say it's. . . . above average.
Not-as-clever-as-I-think-they-are references aside, this film is of somewhat mixed quality, yet its strengths greatly outshine its weaknesses. It's a very refreshing film, not only within context of the DCEU, but as a superhero film, period. Wonder Woman not only has ambitions, but its ambitions (generally) pan out.
Wonder Woman is the second theatrical, feature-length film directed by Patty Jenkins. Overall, this film left positive impressions, and I'll be watching her first film "Monster" shortly. The film is generally well-framed, well-paced, and well-directed. Throughout the film you get a great sense of space, and that the world you see on screen is actually inhabited (unlike the preceding DCEU films). However, there are a handful of notable flaws, specifically the inconsistency of direction when it regards action.
The action in this movie is admittedly all over the place. The better action sequences are actually rather impressive, using long takes and organic choreography in stunning fashion and execution. If the film had stayed consistent in that regard, it would have been far more engaging. However, there is a jarring, over-presence of slow-motion, presumably in efforts to maintain stylistic consistency with the preceding Snyder-isms. Said Snyder-isms however were also bizarre and jarring, and the decision to continue such stylizations was frankly a bad decision. The slow motion in Wonder Woman more often than not takes you out of the film from what otherwise could have been an engaging action sequence. There is also an instance-or-two of shaky-cam, though in comparison to the aforementioned offence is bearable.
Wonder Woman is the first movie in the DCEU to get the hang of the basics of storytelling, and not only that, but it's done generally pretty well. The screenplay was written by Allan Heinberg, with Patty Jenkins working with him closely to ensure the film's competency. One of the story credits however is by Snyder himself, which thankfully seems to have been kept to a minimum. The dialogue contains some good humor throughout the film, and the overall plot, refreshingly, is an actual plot! Things happen, and cohesively too! There are a few problems I had, mainly in regards to the climax/ending.
First, the extra battle with Ares (containing a frankly dumb character twist) at the end is completely overblown, and undermines what would otherwise have been a strong climax with a fairly powerful statement about humanity. I'll give the better, preceding climax credit for being emotionally-potent though, and even provoking a tear. Why they decided to send it all to hell after that is completely beyond me. The show-don't- tell principle was also respected, albeit briefly, as the very end contains a redundantly irritating narration. There was also a shoehorned reminder that this film is connected to Batman v Superman (which fills me with unending frustration and heartbreak), and decides that a completely forced, poorly framed, and poorly composited shot of Wonder Woman soaring through the air is necessary for some reason. As dumb as that was, I'm not going to hold it against its overall quality too much.
Now for the strongest part of the writing: There is definitely a strong theme of duality within this film, and not only about good/evil within humanity. Tale the focus on women at the beginning of the film, and the focus on men towards the end. The color in the first act, and the greys towards third. It's a deconstruction of dichotomies, revealing the similarities and close relation of it all in a rather well-done painting of duality. This alone makes it more ambitious than most other superhero films, and better yet, its ambitions are executed with competency.
Gal Gadot and Chris Pine are a delight in this movie. They have great chemistry, and really carry the film with strong, funny, and emotionally-invested performances. The supporting cast is generally fine, and sometimes even good as well, but it's Pine and Gatot that really stole the show. The villains are admittedly a little over the top, though I'd attribute that particular flaw to the writing.
The CGI isn't very strong all of the time. I usually found it passable, but the more overblown segments suffer from this lack-of-quality heavily. That being said, the colors are very nice, the costume design is good, and the art direction especially is spot on: particularly the war sets, and the magnificent highlight that is the island of Themyscira.
I have mixed feelings on the music in this movie. The score is by Rupert Gregson- Williams. . . . and also at least five other people, and it shows (I check the music department credits, I don't make this up y'know). On one hand, this is the first DCEU movie in which the music is solidly serviceable to the film, rather than minimally so. On the other hand however, the score is still very generic, as you'd expect from a score produced by Remote Control Studios. The largest detriment in the score however is still the painfully out-of-place Wonder Woman theme carrying over from Dawn of Justice--which to be fair is a fine melody on its own, but it doesn't fit Wonder Woman in the slightest. I'll at least give them credit for attempting thematic consistency though, I just wish there was a different and more fitting theme to be consistent with.
Parts of this film are worthy of a 9/10. Other parts are more suited for a 7/10 or lower, but its strengths persist and carry the film nicely. I am happy to say that Wonder Woman is the first DCEU film that I'd give a solid recommendation to. It also might be the last one until Matt Reeve's "Batman", so yeah. . . . um. . . .
The Man from Earth (2007)
A Single Conversation with Countless Ideas
The Man from Earth is based on a screenplay conceived by Jerome Bixby and completed shortly before his passing. About a decade later, the film went into production. This movie is for anyone who loves sci-fi, or just thought-provoking texts in general.
This sci-fi fantasy is one of my favorite films, but is really more of a conversation than a film. It explores various topics and ideas, and will keep you engaged and interested. As a film however (from a production standpoint), it's far from perfect.
The cinematography and direction are fine. The video and audio quality are just OK. The acting is a little shaky, sometimes distractingly. The music is serviceable, though isn't necessarily anything special. Overall, it's not very impressive from a technical angle. Considering the layers of inquiry central to the film, there's a lot more that could have been done from a directorial standpoint. To the director's credit though, the film holds up well considering the low budget and the fact that it takes place almost entirely in a single room. To most people that would seem pretty boring, but The Man from Earth manages to be both interesting and engaging, with no small amount of help from the screenplay. It's the writing that I love it for (in fact, it's actually been adapted into a play, which seems more fitting).
The Man from Earth was written by Jerome Bixby, who worked as a writer on both Star Trek and The Twilight Zone (two of the most influential sci-fi works in history), and what made those shows compelling is just as present in The Man from Earth. This film explores multiple ideas, but this time through a single conversation: what if a man could survive from the prehistoric era to modern day?
At first, that seems like kind of a silly question. It's actually where the "fantasy" in "sci- fi fantasy" comes in, but they take this concept a long way. This conversation is an introspective reflection on history—an exploration of perception itself. As we listen to the main character speak, we get a sense of how the time and space around him not only affect what he perceives, but how he perceives it. It's basically saying that our circumstances are not only what we perceive, but our circumstances shape how we perceive it. It's very cyclical, and endlessly fascinating—not unlike principles of language. It's the exploration of these subjects that help The Man from Earth classify not only sci-fi, but propel it to among the best the genre has to offer.
There are also some rather fascinating deconstructions on religion. This includes new how religions borrow from past religions, and successive denial of borrowing at all. It also explores how someone's view of religion would be shaped after seeing so many religions come and go. Between the themes of living (essentially) forever and coping with death, the thoughts over religion fit right in.
There's a subplot or two that feels unnecessary, but overall it's a very interesting movie, with a handful of quotable lines even. The Man from Earth: Holocene is coming up very soon, and though I'm VERY skeptical that this sequel is necessary (or could even be good), I'll give it a chance. (Also it's got Michael Dorn so whoooo!) I recommend this film to anyone who is a science-fiction fan, or just likes movies that make you think.
Alien: Covenant (2017)
Far From the Worst the Franchise Has to Offer
Overall, Alien: Covenant is far from the worst the Alien franchise has to offer—but that's not really setting the bar very high, is it? Though I found the film interesting and entertaining, it is a clear step down from Prometheus.
Alien: Covenant is the second act in Ridley Scott's Alien prequel trilogy, following 2012's Prometheus. While I don't think Scott's lost his directorial touch entirely, the quality of his past few films has been admittedly uneven, ranging from mixed to great. One thing that is consistent however, is the fact that his films are breathtakingly beautiful, and Covenant is no exception. Though the visuals of Prometheus were arguably more polished, this movie maintains a similar quality in photographic direction nonetheless. Overall, Scott's direction is very competent, though the film's true flaws boil down to its writing.
Note that Alien is one of my very favorite films, and without a doubt my very favorite horror film. The horror in Covenant however, was just OK. It didn't feel like anything was special, or new, or more effective than it needed to be, and does little to expand upon the violative psychological allegories that made the original so effective. In fact, I think that the focus on horror may not have been the ideal direction for this film.
James Cameron's Aliens for example, is a well-regarded sequel, in no small part due to the genre-swap. I would also argue that what made Prometheus work was the philosophical thriller/adventure direction. Instead of running with that, we get a less- exciting fusion of Prometheus and Alien, I suspect due to complaints that Prometheus wasn't similar enough to Alien in the first place. Rather than expanding upon Prometheus' new direction, they try to "compensate" for it, which results with a clear step backwards. I was hoping for more philosophical musings, like an extension from Prometheus, but these ideas were only really teased. I like the idea that factions of the engineers had xenomorph-like gods, so they created them, as if reflecting the tendency of humanity to make up gods. "False Gods" aka "All Gods". Yet they kept it disappointingly vague and hardly explored it, which won't fare well in trying to justify the existence of this prequel-trilogy.
The writers' credits are all over the place, with resumes including everything from Green Lantern to Logan. There are six writers credited total: two for characters, two for story, and two for the screenplay, all different people. This is a problem. When you have so many writers, the overall point of things usually becomes muddled, as you have multiple interpretations going on. Perhaps this was actually responsible for the conflict in direction, but it contributes to other flaws of the screenplay as well.
For one, the Covenant's crew didn't wear protective suits when they went down to the planet in case of pathogens (which is a pretty basic precaution). If they didn't make that flaw, we wouldn't have a movie (or we'd just have a more thoughtful one in it's place). I also saw the David/Walter switch a mile away, though I admit that I liked how they eased you back into thinking it was Walter before the reveal at the end though. The story flaws are pretty basic and even clichéd at this point, yet despite this there are still redeeming aspects of the story, namely with world-building.
Besides seemingly drifting even farther away from the movie it's supposed to be building up to, there are still some solid additions to the Alien Universe. I really liked the expansion of the alien biology—how they outlined a hyper-aggressive evolutionary factor that vastly expands the possibilities of this alien pathogen. I also actually kind of liked the neomorph: it was eerily almost-human, and the idea of it being spread by spores kind of gets under your skin. The engineer city is also a nice visual, and David's study is endlessly intriguing.
As far as performances go, Michael Fassbender was spectacular! I mean, I'd really expect no less of him after the stunning resume he's built thus far, but his ability to portray both David and Walter with nuance and attention to detail was one of the most redeeming qualities of this film. And even if it wasn't anything truly outstanding, Katherine Waterston also did a pretty good job as the lead protagonist. The other performances were solid at their worst, and were functional within the movie.
The special effects were fairly mixed. When it comes to the spacecrafts and general stuff like planets/equipment etc. . . . it was fine. The Aliens however, were fairly poor, and sometimes even took me out of the film. The alien effects in Covenant didn't feel as convincing as they were in the 1979 film, which is rather disappointing considering that it's been nearly four decades since then. The aliens feel far too primal/animalistic, and are so over-animated that they lose their cold, otherworldly, lovable xenomorph- iness. This worked far better for the Neomorph, since they are new and had an identity that needed filling anyway, but it didn't work for the Xenomorph in the slightest. Basically, the way they looked and moved in covenant felt less believable/engaging than ever, with exception of the one (maybe two) scenes in which they used practical effects.
The score is by Jed Kurzel, with musical hints/themes from both the original Alien (Jerry Goldsmith) and Prometheus (Marc Streotenfeld). This score features various improvisations from the musicians as well, adding to the overall atmosphere of weird evolution and mystery. Though the score is adequate, it's not particularly remarkable or memorable, with exception of the Prometheus theme highlights.
This film also sets up for a (likely redundant) sequel, which I'm half-heartedly excited for. Overall though, it was still a mixed-positive bag for me. Alien: Covenant, while a very flawed movie, is still an enjoyable and interesting experience, and is worth a watch if it interests you.
It's hard to even know where to begin. . . .
If you liked this movie, good for you. You can enjoy it to your heart's desire, and I'm not here to stop you. BUT, I am here because the objective quality of this film is to me, insufferable in its entirety by nearly all criteria I can fathom. I can't possibly go into detail about every flaw in the movie with this cursed 1,000 word limit, but I'll do my best. It's fine to disagree, but please do try to understand where I'm coming from before you turn sour about it.
I'm sensing a lot of denial about this movie, much like with the Phantom Menace, which I consider Batman v Superman on par with (that's a bad thing). Everything in this movie is incoherent, boring and obnoxious, but for so many people this movie represents a dream come to reality, and the flaws are understandably hard to come to terms with. There are decent concepts dissolved within the movie, first of which being that inherent of the comic books, and second, the idea of the story building off of a court/trial structure (hence the "v" in the title). However, the overall execution misses the mark by a long shot.
This is the second directorial work I've seen from Zack Snyder, and is where I see his greatest flaws as a filmmaker manifest. Most prominently is the struggle he has between balancing scenes and moments (credit: Evan Puschak). The time spent with and establishing the characters and settings are so fleeting that when the movie tries to amalgamate to something, it falls completely flat. "Scenes" are traded in favor of "moments" as Snyder tries to constantly "wow" you. But the characters and themes aren't given room to breathe. Every moment feels unearned and completely underwhelming. This makes the film boring, and endlessly tedious. This was a minor setback in Man of Steel, but here it consumes nearly every frame of its two-and-a-half hour runtime.
Unlike in Man of Steel, Snyder's visual flair here comes off as far more obnoxious and aggressive. The ramping shots and slow-motion and snap-zooms not only look bizarre, but come off as an outright assault on the senses. It feels like something a child would do for the sake of mindless, fleeting entertainment. The action and battle scenes are completely overbearing as well, and hence become uninteresting and exhausting. Though Zack Snyder's direction is very poor on its own, a movie's basic quality comes down to its script.
The screenplay by returner David S. Goyer and newcomer Chris Terrio is very poor, and is no doubt a substantial detriment to this movie. There are multiple sub-plots that don't contribute anything to the film, but maybe would have with any semblance of focus or convicted direction. The writers simply just don't know what they're doing. The story doesn't feel impactful or important, and the plot is nearly non-existent outside of seemingly random occurrences. The showdown concept wasn't written with any thoughtfulness, but rather as a completely forced set-up for the Justice League in what is by far the worst sequel-baiting I've seen in any blockbuster franchise, ever. Wonder Woman by the way, has no semblance of a reason to be in this film besides marketing, and wastes your time on contrived, studio-bred subplots. Furthermore, the court/trial concept (which is the only interesting part of the movie), adds up to nothing of interest. The characters throughout not only lack basic, consistent personality traits, but are mere vectors that change as the plot needs them to, if there is any characterization happening in the first place, which I couldn't discern.
Now for something that needs mentioning: I'm not opposed to religious allegories so long as they have a reasonable level of self-awareness to them. However, the Jesus analogy is just plain insulting. It's nothing but a fallacious, self-indulgent, self- aggrandizing ego trip, and I spent the better part of an hour trying to find a more scathing way to say that but I gave up.
And let's talk about the "Martha" moment. Yes, I realize it's used as a device to undermine the dehumanization Batman feels for Superman. And no, it's still moronic and laughably bad. I'd call it anti-climactic, but the rest of the movie wasn't building up to anything anyway, so really it was just dumb.
I'll be glossing over the performances, which were functional considering what the actors were given. I can't even blame Jesse Eisenberg for his loathsome portrayal of Lex Luthor, considering that kind of performance could only fly if the director/script were completely incompetent in the first place.
The score by Tom Holkenborg, Hans Zimmer, four others without forefronted credit, and X additional ghostwriters. . . . is bad. At best, the score was minimally serviceable, bland and unmemorable (enough to fool some general audiences these days). At worst, it was abhorrent and distractingly poorly-spotted. For example: the over- presence of the choir was oblivious to the tone, and the Wonder Woman theme is obnoxious and bears no resemblance to her character whatsoever. I picked up thematic development on maybe two cues otherwise, both of which sounded like they were plagiarized from a bad temp score. This score is an abomination of a following act in the footsteps of John Williams and Danny Elfman.
The CGI looks like gameplay footage from a PS3, but even if it was passable by any measure it can't come close to making up for the films blatant incompetency.
Batman v Superman is one of the worst "films" I've ever seen. I went in with hopes that it wouldn't be as bad as I expected, and it actually turned out worse. Also, I'm going to ask you to consider not seeing Justice League. Same writers. Same director. Odds are it'll be the same mess all over again.
Man of Steel (2013)
Uneven, but Competent
I first viewed this film in 2017, well after the DCEU gained its rather divisive reputation, and hence I didn't go in with very high expectations. Surprisingly enough though, it wasn't bad. It was borderline good even, but there are definitely flaws that hold me back from using that word relative to this film. Overall however, I'm relieved to say that this film is at least competent.
Fortunately, the Snyder-isms are substantially less obnoxious here than they wound up being in Batman v Superman, or presumably his other directorial works. In Man of Steel, the presence of slow-motion, snap-zooms, and desaturated palettes are still over-done, but in a way that can still pass off as stylistic choices or visual flair, rather than a complete assault on the senses. There are a few scenes early on in the film that try to create powerful moments, but they aren't always earned and were borderline jarring, meaning that they weren't built up to in a way that felt natural. One instance of this is the first scene in which we see Superman fly (after we first see the Fortress of Solitude if I'm not mistaken). The camera sweeps and the music swells, but it feels a little sudden in contrast to the scenes preceding it. This is but one of the smaller aspects of the film that feel uneven.
The film's first half is mostly well-paced. The opening scene of Krypton was actually pretty solid, and does a rather good job of adding depth to this world. The second half of the film however is essentially a nonstop, overblown action scene. By the time we get to the climax it feels as though the movie is 20-25 minutes longer than it should have been, and it's exhausting. If we isolate the execution of the action, it's generally well done, but in context of the rest of the film it's like a teeter-totter bookended by an infant and a sumo-wrestler. It doesn't balance. It throws off the pacing. That being said, this problem is not substantial enough to disarm it of its competency entirely. I admit this is actually the first Zack Snyder film I've seen, and my impression is that he's perfectly capable of competent direction so long as the writing is in line.
I had initially forgotten that Christopher Nolan shared story credit with David S. Goyer, though Goyer wrote the actual screenplay by himself regardless. Nolan however is presumably responsible for the non-chronological storytelling in regards to Superman's backstory, which is the strongest part of this film (arguably). Though sometimes generic, the way it unfolds allows the audience to sympathise with and follow Clark throughout the film. His character isn't defined spectacularly (meaning that I'd be hard-pressed to distinguish more than two of his personality traits), but his motivations are made very clear. That being said, the death of his human father (Kevin Costner) was somewhat upsetting, seeing as how the shot was long enough to imply that he would have been fine had he just strolled on over to the overpass where everyone else was safe. The concept of his father's death in context of Clark's character-building was good, but the execution in that scene is admittedly questionable. The dialogue was sometimes clunky too, and could have benefited from a few more readings and revisions.
There is also an irritating and unnecessary Jesus analogy in this film. As you can probably assume, it's self-indulgent, self-congratulatory, pandering and obnoxiously lacking in any semblance of cognizance. This is the most blatant insult to the audience in the entirety of the film, but I'll show mercy for now.
As far as performances go, Henry Cavill is good as a courtly and collected Superman and actually feels believable in the context of this role. As Clark Kent, he is reasonably nuanced in his stages as a drifter (with no small help from that fabulous beard), but is otherwise mostly just functional. The actor who portrayed young Clark was also pretty good, or at least not distracting from the film. Amy Adams was fine as well, but there were one or two moments where her line delivery wasn't good, likely thanks to the script. The rest of the supporting cast also did well in this film, though there weren't any clear standouts to me.
The visual effects were mixed for me. The CGI in this is by far the best of the first three films in the DCEU, but the over-processed, desaturated color-correction made the use of the CGI feel glossy and unrealistic. Visually, I'm still not fond of Snyder's style, but at this level of presumable restraint, that's more of a personal preference.
The score was by Hans Zimmer & friends, meaning there were actually three other composers involved (at least), one of which was uncredited in the film, and who knows how many ghostwriters were in on it. As you might expect given that information, from a narrative standpoint, this film's score was a mess. There was one maybe two themes that I could pick out thematic development on throughout the film, and even then it didn't stray very far from the generic, unmemorable, canned & clichéd music throughout its duration. That being said, the score was minimally serviceable to the film, though when you're following in the footsteps of the likes of John Williams that doesn't even come close to making the cut. As I said though, the score is serviceable, meaning it won't affect general audiences, and might even fool them into thinking it's good. But from a critical standpoint, it's thoroughly unsatisfying.
Overall, this is a competent superhero film. It's different enough to serve as a relief from the oversaturation of superhero films, but is also flawed enough so that you'd be fine (or maybe even better off) if you missed it. It's by far the best DCEU film of the first three though, so there's that I guess.
Suicide Squad (2016)
Contrived, Pandering, & Aggressively Dull
Despite this review's title and score, I do not hate this film. I can actually understand why some people like it (from a distance). The concept is good, there's some humor, generally audiences will like the song inserts, and Will Smith is charismatic as expected. I think a casual moviegoer could be justified in liking this film, but maybe not in loving it.
However, while I don't hate this film, I am frustrated by it. The foundational concept is a pretty good one, though there's an incurable studio presence and a fundamental lack of genuine inspiration and sincerity throughout. The end product is very mixed, and frankly, very dull.
This is actually the first David Ayer film that I've seen, and at no point did I feel like I was experiencing a directorial vision of any sort. It feels as though the shoehorned omnipresence of pop music and the tacked-on, lifelessly colorful visual flair were contributions by studio executives rather than actual filmmakers, made only to pander to teenagers and the "hip" crowd (or whatever you call it, jeez). Seeing as how David Ayer was given six weeks to write a script, and that extensive reshoots and multiple cuts of the film were produced, I have a hard time believing that filmmakers were involved at all. In fact, the theatrical cut was edited by a trailer company late in post- production, and it shows. This isn't a David Ayer movie, and whichever David Ayer film I see next will be the first David Ayer film I see, as far as I'm concerned.
The story was aimless, and overall the plot lacked the fundamental "so what?" (the significance of it all). The plot feels like a contrived tangent with no significant, actualized goal, and lacks convicted direction. Part of the reason it's hard to care is that the characters were all generically written, and relatively little was provided about them to convince me to care, with maybe the exception of Deadshot and El Diablo. The subplot about Deadshot's daughter has a small, but minimally effective theme of family. El Diablo's subplot, though compelling in concept, lacked believability in its execution and felt borderline cringeworthy. Considering the subject matter (supervillains) I can definitely see how getting audiences to sympathize is a challenge. Many of these characters are supposed to be psychopaths, sociopaths, murderers, etc. . . , but rather than tackling the challenge of getting the audience to sympathize with those kind of personas, the characters are made out to be rational and morally aware individuals, avoiding the nuance of the aforementioned challenge in its entirety. Everything about this screenplay screams that the studio/filmmakers needed to give this film more time to solidify and become realized.
The performances, though with a talented ensemble, group roughly around a minimally competent. Not much stands out, and the actors basically just follow the script. Will Smith is about as charming as Will Smith is at his most average (still pretty charming, to be fair), and Viola Davis, though cheesy, is good in her role (yet after seeing her performance in Fences, I can't help but feel that her talent was wasted). The Rick Flag character struggled with line delivery, and Leto's Joker, while not overtly bad, felt underwhelming and uninspired—which is a shame, considering not only his predecessors, but what he did to "get into character". Yikes! Margot Robbie and the supporting cast are generally fine, though at times over-acted and clichéd. There aren't really any standout performances overall.
The score by Steven Price is only allowed minimal development, as the studio unfortunately thought that shoehorned pop music was more fitting. Price provides a competent score, which is maybe the best in the franchise up to this point (though not by a significant margin necessarily), and from what the film allowed me to hear, is memorable enough for temperamental thematic development—meaning that you can recognize the themes within and throughout the film, but it's not like the tunes are earworms or anything. Word is that the score in its entirety (because large portions were cut to make room for pop music), was to an extent, satisfying, and unlike the previous DCEU films, maintained cohesive thematic development since Price was the sole composer.
Back to the soundtrack: though maybe appealing on album, it feels lifeless in the film. After the success of Guardians of the Galaxy, the studio felt as though a high presence of popular music was a good direction, and would thus have more of a pop-culture appeal. Unlike Guardians of the Galaxy though, Suicide Squad doesn't have the visual flair, charm, direction, or foresight to pull it off. It feels distinctly as though it was a creative decision made on behalf of the studio following up on the Bohemian Rhapsody trailer, and seldom does a song feel like it actually belongs in the scene it's being fitted to.
Nothing about the sets really stood out for me, though I actually really liked some of the visual concepts surrounding the Enchantress. The shadow hand reaching out from the tabletop for example was nice to see, and was perhaps the best aspect of the film. The CGI definitely was less than you'd expect from a big-budget studio production, but at least the film was wise to use it in moderation. The costumes/make-up were fine, though at times a little forced (like Will Smith's bowler hat and suit, which felt out of place). So visually it wasn't bad overall, but certainly wasn't Oscar-worthy.
I watched this film to work towards an Oscar Highlight badge, and to satisfy my tragic, internal completionist before I see Wonder Woman. If the studio gave this film more time to solidify, it could have been a more enjoyable, fun movie. I wouldn't expect anything necessarily great out of it even then, but there's entertainment value hidden in there somewhere. Instead, it's just dull.
The Atheist Delusion (2016)
False Analogies & Strawmen
To perfectly honest, I'm not entirely sure why I decided to watch this (much less review it). At the most fundamental level, I suppose I wanted to challenge myself—to hear something of substance that I haven't heard before and get swept away with a new and exciting argument to challenge. Seeing as how none of Comfort's former commercials (shoutout to Ralph Sepe for coining that term for instances such as these) have done me such a favor so far, I really should have known better.
The video begins with a man (Comfort himself) approaching and interviewing Atheists on the streets. The primary argument this man makes is that DNA is like a book, and that both books and DNA are complicated (so far it's not objectively false). He argues that a book is too complicated to appear out of nowhere, and therefore must've had an author. This takes Comfort to the conclusion that DNA must've had an author too, and that the author in question is a very specific deity from a very specific book.
This is a false analogy. See, the thing about books, is that we've SEEN people write them. It's simple. We can look up the author, find pictures, addresses, and if needed, find them in person to poke and prod the poor fellow to confirm their existence. Even if the author has since died, there are usually reasonable historical records to assure us they lived and breathed, even if that means paying a visit to their crypts. Any reasonable individual who finds a book in the middle of nowhere would assume it had a (human) creator, BECAUSE we have substantial experience and evidence to testify that books are written and constructed by humans, and nothing else as far as we know. Let's suppose that you've had no recollectable contact with other humans for the entirety of your life: seeing as how you wouldn't have the sufficient experience/evidence to conclude that the book was created by a human, you quite simply wouldn't conclude that a human created it. Regardless, such a conclusion would be wholly unwarranted given the evidence you have to work with. You could conjure up a hypothesis at best. Besides that, I reckon you wouldn't have the ability to read anyway, and instead of contemplating the book's origin you'd more likely use it as a projectile to steer away that pesky raccoon that didn't consider that the rock it just peed all over may have been your territory. . . . I digress. No one (that we know of FOR CERTAIN, let's be fair), can verifiably testify being a witness to a deity in the process of designing/writing DNA, nor can they provide pictures, or tangible addresses, and as far as I can discern, God hasn't signed his name anywhere in writing plain enough to close this discussion. The same goes for the watchmaker analogy and all the analogies like it. Unless you've observed a god creating life/humans, and said observation is something everyone else can TANGBLY observe, this is a broken analogy, and no more. It is however, the best analogical argument this commercial had to offer.
Comfort clearly has a hard time differentiating atheists from simple science enthusiasts. The version of atheism that he attempts to refute is no more than a construction—a mere straw-man fallacy. There are times when comfort straight-up tells atheists what they believe instead of asking them, when he clearly hasn't bothered to reference the simple dictionary definition first. There's also a fundamental misunderstanding of scientific concepts from Comfort that undermines his credibility substantially. Sometimes it's as insignificant as differentiating an explosion from an expansion, sometimes it's his fundamental misunderstanding of evolution (which apparently doesn't get in the way of arguing against it). Perhaps I'll consider writing out my refutation to his views on the latter in a separate review. Regardless, Comfort clearly hasn't studied any actual atheist arguments, much less any religion other than his own. This man is by no means qualified to debate religion on the scale he does, and shouldn't be trusted even if you are trying to reaffirm your own beliefs.
Hold on a sec, just gotta write some scripture real quick (and feel to quote me): "The IMDb User Reviews God is the only true god." - Me
OK, so we've established that the IMDb user reviews god is the only true god, right? Well, we know that's true, because this IMDb user review says so. I'm not serious of course, but this is how Comfort argues his position once he's run out of false analogies—he doesn't even attempt to hide his circular reasoning fallacies. Then, it essentially just comes down to the argument: "We don't know, so therefore it's God." This is where I'm losing the patience to explain things.
As an agnostic atheist just eager to have their socks knocked off, I'm pretty disappointed by this film (or as it would better be categorized, this "collection of stock footage assembled into a propagandic fallacy"). It's possible that they took out any interviews from people who understood what they were talking about, but I find it more likely that they just got lackluster responses from people who just wanted Ray to leave them alone. I mean, c'mon man.
Well, I better find something sinful to do before my blood pressure gets too high.
Before the Flood (2016)
Beyond the Flood: Reflection and Analysis
Note: This review is adapted from a paper written for a class.
Though remaining in the shadow of the paramount An Inconvenient Truth, National Geographic's 2016 climate change documentary Before the Flood is more important than ever. With all mentions of climate change getting stripped away from government websites and budget reforms, the education of the unconvinced isn't only urgent, but imperative for survival. Narrated by Leonardo Dicaprio, the film takes a look at how anthropogenic climate change impacts the environment, exploring various parts of the world to demonstrate its drastic and unsettling effects.
The film's primary metaphor for humanity's relationship with climate change is the renowned painting of the Garden of Earthly Delights, by Hieronymus Bosch. The first panel of the illustration is pure and peaceful, representing simplicity and purity. This is presumed to be the film's way of representing the pre-industrial revolution world, unadulterated by machines and technology. The second panel depicts humanity indulging in life's recreations, blinding them to imminent threats spawned from their own comfort. This symbolizes humanity's unrelenting pollution, wastefulness, and unwillingness to change. The final panel is the future, a landscape ravaged of beauty and replaced by an unraveling humanity and a burning wasteland—a depiction of Earth in a matter of decades, or the part where humanity's flesh boils off their bones, if you will. The film is structured so that it is bookended with narration on the painting, with Dicaprio explaining his personal connection with the work, as well as its broader applications. Alongside the painting comes segments from his speech at the climate conference, connecting the dots between metaphor and reality so the significance is not overlooked, almost as if he is crafting the frames around our own metaphorical panel in the painting.
In the body of the film, Dicaprio observes weather instruments once solidly planted in thick layers of ice now, melted away. If NASA's satellite photographs weren't enough to convince skeptics that the ice caps weren't growing (which they aren't), this'll hopefully do the trick. The film explores other struggles as well, such as India resolving to use coal as it's cheap and accessible, and if the United States won't switch away from fossil fuels, why should a significantly poorer country do it? Countries such as China follow similar logic, seeing their current levels of pollution as justified when compared to America's long history of environmental neglect. This situation demonstrates why America needs to be a leader when it comes to green energy. Substantially more concerning is the segment on flooding from a Florida town. The town officials are shown trying to receive funding to combat this flooding, however, not only are the town's officials prohibited from bringing this issue to the governor, but all mention of climate change in state legislation has been banned. This is the film's way of pointing out the dire need to combat ignorance of climate change, as its reach and impact extends far beyond the United States.
The presentation of the film is at times very formal, but at others sweeping and hauntingly gorgeous. This works largely from the contrast between earth's natural beauty and mankind's warping of it, like the center panel of The Garden of Earthly Delights. Besides that, the camera-work is fairly straightforward and formal, as one might expect from a documentary. The Music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross provides an atmosphere-heavy score that is tonally beautiful yet deeply depressing. Though I resent the duo to a degree for snubbing John Powell's academy award in 2012, the score is effective, and deserves credit where credit is due. It sets an eerily beautiful post- apocalyptic timbre, mirroring the cinematography and the reality of the situation. The score does not contain anything particularly memorable or offer much in the way of thematic development, but in the absence of a narrative, this is not particularly detrimental.
As for the film's main flaws, it was arguably lacking in proposed solutions when compared to fore-mentioned problems. Climate change is a problem that has progressed so deeply that changing light bulbs and taking the bus isn't going to stop the exponential warming, much less make an impact. Our best odds, unsettlingly, are likely with geoengineering/climate hacking: though it's understandably difficult to motivate regular people to take action of such scientific ambiguity and precariousness. The most unconvincing aspect of the film besides that was unfortunately Leonardo Dicaprio. As a presumably wealthy individual, the issues regarding the funding of climate change initiatives seem like a medium he would be rather significantly qualified combat with his resources, beyond simply co-producing a film. Reports that Dicaprio used private helicopters and jets for transportation while making the film did not help, and his lifestyle is an unfortunate juxtaposition with his efforts on this film. A similar argument could be made to a lesser extent with Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth, with the whole charade about Gore owning a large house and a limousine, though that film is arguably profound enough to better justify the behind-the-scenes contradictions. I don't want to hold these lifestyle hypocrisies against these individuals too much however, since they are still trying motivate people on a large scale to initiate change.
This film isn't one designed to convince skeptics that climate change is real, as scientifically there aren't enough credentials to validate that debate. The film assumes that you're on the same page scientifically, and if you're not that you'd at least accept the reality of the aforementioned worldly struggles. I already had a deep understanding climate change's inner workings, so it didn't expand my knowledge substantially, but rounded it out nonetheless. Despite that want for change is inherent in the subject at hand, they still utilize imagery and metaphors in an impactful way. So, despite the film's imperfections, it still makes a strong case for preventing reality from turning into the third panel of the Garden of Earthly Delights.
RWBY: A Look at Volumes 1-4
RWBY is an anime-inspired web-series created by Monty Oum and produced by Rooster Teeth. I've updated this review since finishing the fourth season (this review was initially written for volumes 1-3).
I'm not going to pretend this is an outstanding series: it's not. In fact, it's not very impressive at all for a vast majority of the time, and is upsettingly overrated. It does however, have redeeming qualities sprinkled throughout that may or may not warrant a viewing, depending on what interests you I guess. I'll start with the positives.
The art direction is generally pretty good. The design of the Grimm is fascinating, the sets and scenery can range from good to great (they get better every season), and the costume design is very good, for a few reasons. Many of the characters are designed after historical or mythological figures, and that design will also tie into their personal fighting style, personality, and story arc. What's also interesting is that the coloring schemes are used as a story element—exhibiting certain character traits and plot foreshadowing on a level that will surpass most shows of this trade.
The last few points also tie into the lore and story, which are thoroughly designed by show creator Monty Oum. The lore is very detailed and thought out in a way that would require some outside reading for most. Since Oum's passing however, it seems that Rooster Teeth will be taking the show in a different direction than the creator's plans. Though such an executive decision is disrespectful, and frankly upsetting, this review will focus on what *is*, rather than what *would be*. He went out with a surprisingly weighty third season though, with a level of sacrifice and scope that redeemed some of the series' more prevalent flaws up to that point. After that, there is a dramatic decline in season 4 that would suggest the writers were replaced by middle-schoolers.
Update for Season 4: I'm going to keep Rooster Teeth's politics in the review's score to a minimum, but there's no other way to describe it other than disgusting. They declined Oum's wife after she revealed that she was aware of Monty's plans for the series, and also proceeded to fire a majority of the animators, choreography team, and writers that had ties to Monty, only to write in their character inserts as central to the story. Not only did season 4's sory quality dramatically decline, but the conditions surrounding it are nothing but despicable. The quality effectively undermines the series' peak at season 3. I digress. . . .
Finally, the music is pretty good. Jeff Williams writes not only the intro songs, but does the majority of the soundtrack as well. The intro music is actually pretty good generally, with the first two themes being outstanding to me, and a periodic decline in volumes 3 and 4 respectively. The soundtrack itself is fairly good too, as it employs some clever leitmotivic sensibilities to a small but still enjoyable degree. It doesn't shine high above most shows, and the material isn't overall very memorable, but it is a step up in quality from television's average endeavor nonetheless. Casey-Lee Williams, Jeff's daughter (presumably), also provides the vocals for the intros and soundtrack, with a truly beautiful voice and outstanding range. Now for the negatives:
The animation, not including the generally well-done choreographic concepts, is fairly poor. I know animation is hard, but television has set higher standards. To be fair, the quality has increased along with the presumable budget increase, but there is still a sense that the characters are simply paper dolls devoid of weight. The quality of choreography in season 4 however declines dramatically.
Speaking of characters, though arranged with the lore cleverly, are diminished to tired clichés. The characters I actually found interesting were only found interesting out of a predisposition liking for that particular kind of character, and at its worst the personalities and the banter between them are insufferably irritating or downright cringe-worthy. This is in no way helped by the voice acting, which generally reaches its peak at minimally passable, and is for the most part—bad. The chemistry between the voice actors is almost absent in its entirety, and that can perhaps be attributed to the generally poor script, which feels choppy and hastily written. The story arc of season 4 however is a sure decline in quality. The plot goes almost-literally nowhere, and there's an oversaturation of uninteresting exposition and new, irritating characters.
Individual Volume Ratings: Volume 1: 6/10, Volume 2: 7/10, Volume 3: 8/10, Vol. 4: 4/10, My overall rating: 6/10 (≈ D-)
I personally would like some of my time back, though again, there are redeeming aspects here and there that don't make it a complete waste of time. So watch it if it interests you. Don't if it doesn't. If you care about plot or characters though, it's probably best to steer clear.