2017 Summer Movie Review: A Ghost Story

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C (Casey Affleck) wakes up as a ghost in David Lowery’s magnum opus, A Ghost Story. (Source: Rolling Stone)

How can something so simple go somewhere so deep?

After Disney’s surprisingly wonderful remake of Pete’s Dragon, director David Lowery returns to his indie roots with the Sundance hit A Ghost Story. It reteams the duo of the sluggish yet decent Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. It might turn people off who expect it to be a straight-up horror film. With a budget of $100,000 and shown in the 1.37.1 aspect ratio, Lowery explores the afterlife through the eyes of a person wearing the cheapest Halloween costume in the world. This is a strange yet devastating roller-coaster ride through the afterlife.

C (Casey Affleck) is a musician living in a house in rural Texas with his wife M (Rooney Mara). They both keep hearing bumps in the night; trying to find the source of the sounds. As C dies from a car crash, he wakes up in the hospital in a white sheet with two black holes for eyes. As a ghost, he walks back to his house to reconnect with M. No one seems to notice he still exists. C’s ghost goes on a journey through the past, present, and future.

In his first Sundance feature-length hit Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Lowery pays homage to Terrence Malick with films, such as Badlands and Days of Heaven. It comes as no surprise for A Ghost Story that it has ties with Malick among other directors. Ranging from faraway shots and long takes, Lowery and cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo put it to good use with every shot, accompanied by Daniel Hart’s haunting score. They are nothing short of breathtaking!

A Ghost Story features very minimal dialogue. The old saying, “Actions speak louder than words”, is rather appropriate here. In one particular scene, the ghost watches his wife grief in silence while eating a whole pie. During the long take, we see her get more upset after each bite until she rushes to the bathroom to throw it up. As devastating as the scene is, it’s quite impressive to see it done in one take. It proves how talented Rooney Mara is.

Affleck’s performance is one of the most subtle yet ambitious performances to date. Fresh from winning an Oscar for Manchester by the Sea, he spends most of the movie in the bedsheet without delivering a single line (with the exception of a few in the beginning and the end of the film). With the theme involving the endurance and perception of time, Affleck’s ghost spends time observing his wife move out of his house as other people start to move in; including a Hispanic family and one of the partygoers (Will Oldham) talking about the end of the universe. “We do what we can to endure…you do what you can to make sure you’re still around after you’re gone,” he says, summing up the film’s main idea.

A Ghost Story may not be for everyone. It doesn’t move at a fast pace. However, for those who are patient and willing to give it a shot, be my guest. You might love it or hate it. For me, one of the main reasons why I think this one of the best films of the year is that it’s full of originality, which is rare for movies nowadays. This definitely requires repeated viewings.

4/4

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2017 Summer Movie Review: Dunkirk

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Three British soldiers waiting to be rescued in Christoper Nolan’s Dunkirk. (Source: IMDb)

Who doesn’t love Christopher Nolan? He’s one of the most ambitious yet brilliant filmmakers working today, who has a very unique style relying on the practicality. He is widely known for rebooting the Batman franchise after the dismal Batman and Robin. He often transports the audience to another world in movies such as the mind-bending Inception and the disappointing and overrated Interstellar. His latest film, Dunkirk, is a different approach for Nolan. A film taking place in a historical setting; let alone, World War II. Is there anything he can’t do?

Dunkirk features three storylines set on land, at sea, and in the air, told in non-linear fashion (make sure you pay attention to what’s going on). During the evacuation on the beaches of France, Nazi Germany has surrounded 400,000 men from Britain, Belgium, Canada, and France. Among those who are waiting to be rescued are Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) and Alex (One Direction’s Harry Styles), both of whom are in the British Army. While on the pier, Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) and Col. Winnant (James D’Arcy, Agent Carter) are making sure the soldiers are settling on the ships safely.

Meanwhile, out at sea, Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) is driving in his yacht with his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney). They rescue a wounded soldier (Cillian Murphy), whose U-boat got hit by a torpedo, while three Spitfire planes—one of them piloted by Farrier (Tom Hardy, who is in a mask again)—fly overhead to keep the Germans out.

It has been said a thousand times, but it’s a fact that every war is hell. Even every war movie depicts them as hell. This is no surprise for Dunkirk. Unlike the graphic nature of Saving Private Ryan and Hacksaw Ridge, this movie is more of a survival story than anything (hence the PG-13 rating). Nolan takes this incredible story to full advantage with minimal dialogue and tension that never lets up until the end. Hans Zimmer’s outstanding score, like the rest of the movie, resembles a ticking time bomb.

What I appreciated about Dunkirk is the authenticity and realism of its depiction. As stated above, Nolan is known for using more practical effects than CGI, which is rare for a summer blockbuster. Not only is the movie filmed at the actual location of the evacuation, it also features real WWII-era carriers, planes and guns. The action sequences—set in all three locations—are unlike anything you’ve ever seen. It makes the audience feel like they are actually there witnessing these events.

Being their acting debuts, Whitehead and Styles both bring forth such nuanced bravery into their performances as the two British soldiers risking their lives. Featuring such a tremendous cast, the audience sympathizes with the characters while it shifts between these three storylines. It’s an experience that I’ll definitely revisit time and again.

There has never been a movie that hit me harder all year than Dunkirk. This is a suspenseful, emotional roller-coaster ride. Even Peter Travers went as far as calling it “the greatest war film ever”, which is saying a lot. Dunkirk is definitely up there with some of the greats. I would be surprised if it receives little recognition at this year’s Oscars. It’s easily a front-runner for Best Picture. The question is: Will Christopher Nolan receive his first nomination as director? We’ll just have to wait and see.

4/4

“War for the Planet of the Apes”: The Ending to Something Extraordinary

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Caesar (Andy Serkis) returns, and he is not happy, in War for the Planet of the Apes. (Source: Screen Rant)

“War has already begun. Ape started war. And human will not forgive,” says Caesar at the end of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. This is a send-up to the next film in the beloved franchise.

It has been almost 50 years since Planet of the Apes revolutionized the science-fiction genre with its groundbreaking sets and costume design, thoughtful ideas on faith and evolution, and its shocking twist ending. The franchise has come a long way with the reboots. In Rise, a scientist created a possible Alzheimer’s cure tested on apes including Caesar. While Caesar and his apes are given enhanced intelligence which leads to a battle on the Golden Gate Bridge, the humans are given a virus. In Dawn, the so-called Simian Flu wipes most of humanity. The remaining survivors go into an all-out conflict with Caesar and his fellow apes, while Koba betrays him and begins his trek to kill every human soul. War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) returns director Matt Reeves and screenwriter Mark Bomback to focus more on the apes, and give a much darker, grittier, and devastatingly powerful conclusion to one of the best trilogies ever made.

A military group called Alpha-Omega, led by vicious Col. McCullough (Woody Harrelson), begins to emerge. In a breathtaking opening sequence, they attack the apes’ sanctuary in the heart of Muir Woods. Caesar (Andy Serkis), who wanted to offer peace between his fellow apes and the humans for so long, is driven mad after seeing many lives lost. He has plans of relocating his homeland in the middle of the desert, so no humans can be in sight of the apes. Before he could do that, however, he must begin his quest for revenge. Along with Luca (Michael Adamthwaite), Maurice (Karin Konoval), and Rocket (Terry Notary), they encounter a mute girl named Nova (Amiah Miller) and a chimpanzee named Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), who directs them to the facility on the border, operated by McCullough. Once they arrive there, Caesar sees his apes captured and used for slave labor to build a wall to protect his army (I won’t make any Trump jokes, I promise). This immediately becomes the battle of wits.

It’s no surprise that the original Planet of the Apes gained controversy for its allegory of American slavery and the racial tensions of the Civil Rights Movement. To be fair, we still live in a world where racial tensions are the norm. A different race will be discriminated anywhere at any time.  In the case of the Planet of the Apes movies, the irony is that the humans are the least dominant species. War, the ninth film in the franchise, is relevant to the Trmup era (again, no jokes). Reeves directs this social sci-fi movie to his full advantage with the themes of supremacy and prejudice. It asks the question: What does the future hold if the apes are the most dominant species, in terms of evolution?

In a recent interview with Stephen Colbert,[1] Andy Serkis explained that he had no idea he would return to motion capture after doing The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. “This is the end of type casting as we know it,” he said. “Anyone can play anything.”

I can’t agree with him more. Motion capture is certainly the future of film acting. And hopefully for the better. Serkis has fully embraced the instinct of Caesar. Take note on how grayer and wiser he’s getting in each of these movies. In War, we finally get to see the darker side of this brilliant character. We see him evolve from a pet to a leader through compassion. Now—he is getting revenge on losing something so dear to him. With numerous references to the Bible and films of the past, he can be looked at as a Clint Eastwood-type protagonist (one of the film’s biggest inspirations is The Outlaw Josey Wales). He also resembles the biblical Moses.

When we finally get our first glimpse of Col. McCullough, we see a spine-tingling image of him wearing black war paint on his face (one of the references to Apocalypse Now). Later on, we learn more about his motivation and his ties with the Simian virus. With Caesar in his office, he explains how he made the ultimate sacrifice to kill those infected with the virus, which makes humans have the inability to talk. . “The irony is we created you,” says the Colonel. “And nature has been punishing us ever since…no matter what you say, eventually you’d replace us. That’s the law of nature.” From watching the original movies, this makes perfect sense about the humans living on this particular Earth now!

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Comparing behind-the-scenes to the final product. (Source: IMDb)

Zahn, a newcomer to the franchise, provides the film’s comic relief. His Bad Ape is one of the franchise’s most fascinating supporting characters. Originally from the Sierra Zoo, he becomes exposed to the virus and has been hiding out in the snowy mountaintop for years. He becomes their guide leading them to the facility on the border. This results in a funny scene where they make their way through a tunnel.

The beginning and the end of War features two big action set pieces that are as nerve-wracking as they are breathtaking. With the gritty nature going on, what carries the movie through is the simple moments of poignancy. Miller’s Nova represents the innocence during the dark times. Her moments with Maurice are so sweet I want to choke up as much as the rest of the movie. Her moment of grace, however, is during one powerful scene where she sneaks into the facility. She sees Caesar tired and hungry from working on the wall. What does she do? She gives him food and water before escaping from the army. We see one of the apes holding two fists together side-by-side; indicating that “apes together are strong.” The other apes later repeat the act. Accompanied by Michael Giacchino’s outstanding score, it’s impossible not to get teary-eyed.

(As much as I loved Patrick Doyle’s score in Rise, his doesn’t quite capture the gritty nature and simple poignancy of Giacchino’s score in this movie and in Dawn.)

War for the Planet of the Apes may be the end of the trilogy, but the franchise is most certainly not over, according to Matt Reeves. “The idea would never be to remake the ’68 film,” said Reeves in a 2014 interview with JoBlo.[2] “But it would be sort of a re-telling of those events from a new perspective. And the events themselves would probably be a bit different since they will have grown out of these films.” I’m definitely looking forward to seeing exactly where the franchise will go.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=64mWOoj68qo

[2] http://www.joblo.com/movie-news/exclusive-matt-reeves-talks-dawn-of-the-planet-of-the-apes-169

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”: Let’s Bring the Franchise to a Whole New Level!

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Hail, Caesar! (Source: Forbes)

In Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Rupert Wyatt brilliantly brings the popular franchise back to life. A San Francisco scientist created a drug that would cure Alzheimer’s disease. After deeming it a success to chimps, his co-workers decide to make a powerful version of the drug. This causes a worldwide epidemic after the apes had a rebellion on the Golden Gate Bridge to escape to Muir Woods National Monument. This leads up to the next film.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) introduces somebody else to the director’s chair, and known for making some of the most ambitious films of this century. Enter Matt Reeves, the director of the sci-fi found-footage film Cloverfield and the vampire drama Let Me In (remake of 2008’s Let the Right One In). I’m glad he stepped in to direct more Planet of the Apes films. What he does with Dawn is as ambitious as it is pretty damn captivating.

Ten years after a simian flu outbreak, Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his apes have called the Muir Woods their home. They create their own laws (“Ape Not Kill Ape” being one of the key laws) and teach the young. The movie opens up with them hunting for elk (accompanied by Michael Giacchino’s haunting score, the choir feels reminiscent to Ligetti’s “Atmospheres”, used in the star gate sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey). Seeing his son Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston) almost killed, Caesar tells him to “Think before you act.”

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The apes prepare for a battle in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. (Source: Red Brick)

Meanwhile, a group of survivors, including Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), Malcolm (Jason Clarke), his wife Ellie (Keri Russell), and son Alex (Kodi-Smit McPhee), are living in a now-devastated San Francisco. They need to get the power running through the city; however, the dam that connects the power throughout the city is on the other side of ape territory. While Caesar wants to keep peace between apes and humans, Koba (Toby Kebbell) has a strong hatred for humans. He goes out of his way to kill every last of them for revenge.

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Koba (Toby Kebbell) kills in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. (Source: Cinema Blend)

Dawn has plenty of connections to Battle. To be fair, this throws every single Planet of the Apes sequel out of the water. Reeves uses the connections from the original films to his full advantage. The movie has a marvelous theme involving supremacy with allegorical connections to Cain and Abel and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Caesar and Koba are two distinct yet different characters. Caesar’s leadership is through compassion. He might miss having a human companion, but he has to focus on protecting the apes in their sanctuary even his wife Cornelia (Judy Greer) sick after giving birth. A lot of apes join his side, including orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval). In contrast, Koba is sick of the abuse being brought upon by the humans. In one scene involving dark humor, he encounters two people—Terry (Lombardo Boyar) and McVeigh (Kevin Renkin)—who sit back and having a drink after target practice. Koba entertains them until he picks up a gun and starts shooting them. The reason why Koba is one of the franchise’s most memorable villains is because he is so unpredictable at what might happen to him. It amazes me how smarter the apes are with each movie.

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Behind-the-scenes of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes with Jason Clarke and others. (Source: Wall Street Journal)

Motion capture has certainly come a long way after The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Weta Digital is back to make the CGI apes as seamless as ever. I’m surprised Andy Serkis has not received a special Academy Award for bringing these characters to life. His performance as Caesar is one of the most powerful I have seen in many years. Furthermore, he’s one of the only characters performed through motion-capture that moved me to tears. His affection for humans is just the same for his affection for his ape friends. While Malcolm (wonderfully played by Clarke, fresh from starring as one of the NAVY seals assigned to kill Osama bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty) may not be like Will, but he has a similar motivation as Caesar in every way. He has suffered so much during the ten years, and wants to have peace in the world as opposed to violence. After losing his youngest daughter to the outbreak, the only people he has to care about is Ellie and Alex. Once Malcolm finds shelter at Caesar’s childhood home, he and his family must help him get back to health. In one powerful scene, Caesar goes through the attic and sees a video camera. He watches a video of him as an infant learning sign language from Will. Malcolm asks who that was in the video. Caesar says, “A good man…like you.”

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Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) looking badass holding that machine gun in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. (Source: Internet Movie Firearms Database)

Dawn is perhaps the most complex film in the series, filled with compelling characters. Gary Oldman’s Dreyfus, for instance, is particularly complicated. It’s obvious that he has a law enforcement background. He lost everything, from his family to his job as a police officer. He’s not happy with Caesar and the apes living on this planet. He’s struggling just as much as everyone else. From the villain in The Fifth Element, Sirius Black, Commissioner Gordon, and now he’s going to play Winston Churchill in the upcoming Darkest Hour, it proves how great of an actor Oldman is.

This movie is most certainly not without its action. Nothing looks more awesome than seeing a group of apes riding on horseback (the shot of the tank is also just as gorgeous as the miraculous sets of post-apocalyptic San Francisco and the apes’ sanctuary). When they finally go at it against the humans, it makes the audience root for both sides. Meanwhile, Caesar has reached his breaking point with Koba, they fight in one of the most thrilling fights set on top of a tower.

It is impossible to top such a classic like the 1968 version of Planet of the Apes, but Matt Reeves has made a wonderful piece of science-fiction with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. It has just enough thrills, emotion, dark comedy, and visual wonder to make it my personal favorite film in the series. Bring on, War for the Planet of the Apes!

“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”: Something of a Miracle!

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Hail, Caesar (Andy Serkis)! TPihe future king of the apes! (Source: Salon.com)

In 1968, Franklin J. Schaffner and Arthur P. Jacobs introduced a planet unlike any other. A planet where chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans (oh my!) have the ability to talk, read and write, and hold a certain occupation. The only humans who live on this planet are mute and used for sport. Based on the books by Pierre Boulle, Planet of the Apes became a definitive science-fiction classic. Three lousy sequels and one good one (Escape from the Planet of the Apes) would soon follow. As well as a 2001 remake, directed by the master of bizarre, Tim Burton.

Ten years later, director Rupert Wyatt sits in the director’s chair to reboot the beloved franchise. Instead of taking place two thousand years into the future, it’s set in the present-day. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) has a similar premise to Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, but what Wyatt does with Rise is nothing short of a miracle.

Will Rodman (James Franco) is a scientist working for Gen-Sys in San Francisco. For about six years, he has developed ALZ-112, a drug that can repair bad brain cells. In other words, it may be the key solution to cure Alzheimer’s disease. He, along with other scientists, test the drug on chimpanzees, which give them an intelligence unlike anything they have ever seen. One day, he brings home a baby chimp named Caesar (Andy Serkis), whose mother has been linked with the drug.

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Will always has Caesar’s back in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. (Source: IGN)

This is where morality comes into play for Will. He might be risking his job, but he might be doing something good for once. He uses most of his research on Caesar. Over the past two years, Will begins to realize he can learn words, play board games, and complete jigsaw puzzles at an astounding rate. “He’s been displaying incredible signs of intelligence. I designed the 112 to repair. But Caesar has gone way beyond that,” he says. He goes on to say his IQ double since the year before.

After the incredible discovery, Will uses the drug on his father Charles (the legendary John Lithgow), a former music teacher who happens to have Alzheimer’s. With his condition getting worse, the drug seems to work (he wakes up to see his father playing away on the piano), but not permanently.

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Motion capture makes a vast difference. Doesn’t it? (Source: ComingSoon.net)

If you compare this movie to the originals, it doesn’t come as a surprise the tone of the original films are dry and the ape costumes tend to get a little silly. The 20th century had limited technology, so the only option is using make-up and costumes. We now live in a world where everything is possible. Weta Digital, based in New Zealand, are known for bringing brilliant Lord of the Rings, District 9, The Hobbit to pure life with their brilliant motion capture. Rise is the first movie where the company uses motion-capture not only in the studio, but also on-location. The apes here look a lot more like apes than anything. Dozens of actors are performed through this modern technology (for the better). Known for portraying Gollum and King Kong, Andy Serkis brings forth another great character in Caesar. The expressions and the body language are 100% authentic to an actual ape. It’s hard not to feel sympathetic for Caesar whenever he is in the middle of any difficult situation.

Speaking of emotion, the movie has a lot to get teary-eyed over. In one scene, Charles’s condition returns as he’s about to steal a neighbor’s (David Hewlett) Mustang. Looking out of the attic window, Caesar gets pissed off seeing the neighbor giving Charles a hard time. Then, Caesar attacks the neighbor and bites his finger off. While he might have gone a little too far, he’s just protecting one of the only humans he trusts. Despite convincing him to get a girlfriend in a primatologist named Caroline (Freida Pinto), Will takes Caesar to an infirmary, under the supervision of Dodge Landon (Tom Felton, doing his best attempt at an American accent) There, Caesar meets some colorful characters including a circus orangutan named Maurice (Karin Konoval).

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Caesar protecting Charles (John Lithgow) in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. (Source: Collider)

Rise proves the apes are getting smarter with each movie. Caesar is named after Julius Caesar, the ruthless leader of Ancient Rome. He understands the abuse that the apes have gone through over the years (at one point, Dodge screams, “It’s a madhouse!” One of the many references to the original film). He uses a stick as a metaphor for sticking together as one. “Apes together…weak,” referring to the one stick. Then, he breaks it in half, and holds the two halves together, he says (in sign language), “Apes together strong.”

“Apes stupid,” Maurice deadpans, referring to the apes’ behavior in the sanctuary.

Caesar simply can’t take the abuse anymore. He fights Dodge in the sanctuary. While grabbing onto Dodge, he tells him to “Take your stinkin’ paw off me, you damn dirty ape.” Before defeating him, Caesar yells, “No!” Then, Caesar and his fellow apes escape and cause a rebellion, resulting a miraculous sequence on the Golden Gate Bridge.

(When I saw this movie in theaters, I remember laughing at the Planet of the Apes reference. At the moment when Caesar spoke for the first time, the theater went completely silent. Every time I watch it, the scene never fails to send chills down my spine.)

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Caesar and his primates (no pun intended) take San Francisco by storm in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. (Source: Collider)

While it is bizarre to see a comedic actor perform a serious role, Franco is no stranger to that. After earning an Oscar as Aron Rolston in the magnificent 127 Hours, he leads an exceptional cast with his performance as Will. The reason why he’s one of the most convincing human characters in the franchise is because he takes his work very seriously, while his boss Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) decides to improve on the ALZ-112 with a more effective drug, which leads to problems. He trusts Caesar as much as Caesar does to him. This is way before Franco went entirely nuts, and posting a naked mirror selfie on his Instagram.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is one of those rare reboots which slightly improves over the original. It serves as an excellent build-up to the next film in the series, which happens to be my favorite.

2017 Summer Movie Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming

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Spider-Man (Tom Holland) swings into action in Spider-Man: Homecoming, the latest in the MCU. (Source: Den of Geek!)

Who doesn’t love Spider-Man? The friendly neighborhood superhero who swings into action to stop crime in New York City? He’s one of the wittiest superheroes in the Marvel comics. He made his theatrical debut in 2002, starring Tobey Maguire, and has rebooted ten years later, starring Andrew Garfield. Spider-Man is rebooted yet again so he can show the Marvel Cinematic Universe whose boss.

He might have been brought in at the last minute. But—he exceeded everyone’s expectations in Captain America: Civil War. What worked was the authenticity of Spider-Man being played by an actual teenager. Tom Holland—who was 19 at the time—got the character right on the money.

It’s hard not to look forward to seeing him on the verge of becoming an Avenger. Spider-Man: Homecoming proves MCU is stepping up its A-game.

After Civil War, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) returns to living with his aunt May (Marisa Tomei) at his home in Queens. He goes to a private high school, where he is one of the smartest kids there. Not to mention being on the academic decathlon. However, school is getting rough, particularly with his frequent encounters with his bully Flash (Tony Revolori).

While Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) is moving the Avengers Headquarters upstate, they remain his mentor. Things get worse when Spider-Man must face against Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), or the Vulture, who has plans of his own to take over the Stark’s business.

There is plenty to like here. One of the best action set pieces in the movie takes place on the Staten Island Ferry where Spider-Man saves the people on board after a weapon malfunctions. One problem, however, is that the ferry doesn’t allow cars after the 9/11 attacks.

Holland is the definitive Peter Parker/Spider-Man. He gets every one-liner and every web-slinging action pitch perfect! Keaton’s Vulture feels more like a real person than the previous Spider-Man villains. In terms of the MCU, he joins the ranks of Loki and Zemo as one of the best villains. But—in terms of the Spider-Man movies, he’s not quite as menacing as Alfred Molina’s portrayal of Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2. John Batalon steals the show as Ned, Peter’s awkwardly funny best friend. It’s hard not to get a laugh out of him.

2017 has been full of surprises thus far. Spider-Man: Homecoming is another great addition to the MCU, and easily one of the best high school movies of all-time.

3.5/4

“Planet of the Apes” and the Sequels

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Source: IMDb

Planet of the Apes (1968) – Three astronauts—George Taylor (Charlton Heston), Landon (Robert Gunner), and Dodge (Jeff Burton)—wake up two thousand years later on a faraway planet. They soon discover it populated by highly intelligent apes, who have created their own laws and religion. Suffering from a throat injury, Taylor tries to communicate with two chimpanzees—Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) and Zira (Kim Hunter). They both take a vast interest in him. The only humans on the planet are unable to speak–Taylor takes a liking for the mute Nova (Linda Harrison)—and used for sport. Taylor eventually respects the two apes. (“Take your stinkin’ paws off me, you damn dirty ape!” he sneers at one point when he is captured by gorillas).

Planet of the Apes is a milestone in science-fiction cinema. It’s an allegory of American slavery (almost ironic, in a way) and it tackles the questions of religion and science. Since its release in 1968, the movie stills holds up with its impressive sets and terrific ape costumes and make-up. The performances—led by Heston—are one-of-a-kind. A lot of people who haven’t seen the movie yet might be aware of the film’s iconic twist ending. It’s on the DVD cover, for crying out loud!

One of the best movies ever made!

4/4

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Source: Collider

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) – This is where everything gets real bizarre.

Astronaut Brent (James Franciscus) is on a rescue mission to find Taylor on the planet while searching for “his destiny”. In perhaps the most laughable green screen shot in existence, Taylor goes missing through the boulders. Brent finds Nova and encounters both Cornelius and Zira, who warns him about talking to other apes, or else he’ll get in trouble. Nova takes Brent underground until they hear something humming. It’s actually a group of mutants who communicate telepathically.

When I first watched this after seeing Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, I found it to be a decent escape. Rewatching it today, it’s not as good as I remembered. Franciscus makes for a weak protagonist, and it’s obvious Charlton Heston didn’t want to take part in the sequel at all. There also should have been more of a backstory about how the telekinetic mutants lived underground all this time, and wanting to use a doomsday bomb. Beneath might be bad, but it is far from the worst movie in the franchise.

1.5/4

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Source: Den of Geek!

Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) – Now—this is more like it!

Cornelius and Zira have escaped from their planet mere minutes before it got destroyed. Along with Dr. Milo (Sal Mineo), they end up going back in time in present-day Los Angeles. Soon, they are brought to the zoo’s infirmary to be looked upon by doctors Stephanie Branton (Natalie Trundy) and Lewis Dixon (Bradford Dillman). Right away, the doctor as well as the public discover the apes are intelligent and understand human speech. They become celebrities. However, problems begin to arise when the public asks where the two apes are from and Zira eventually getting pregnant.

Escape has what the rest of the sequels lack: humor and heart. I had no idea Frank Capra’s son was one of the producers of this movie. It certainly captures the charm reminiscent to Capra’s films. While the audience gets to learn about the apes’ home planet, we also learn how possible time travel is. There is a scene where Cornelius and Zira are brought before the Commission, and explain how humans are treated in their world. “Where we come from, apes talk. Humans are dumb,” Cornelius says to a shocked crowd. Later on, a doctor talks about the possibility of time travel using a painting of a painter painting a landscape as an example.

The movie is not without its flaws, it does have a suspenseful climax and great performances. Good stuff!

3/4

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Source: Collider

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) – The year is 1991. The apes have taken over the Earth’s population. After a virus that has killed many cats and dogs, the humans use the apes as pets. As the apes get older, they are used more as slaves. Caesar, the son of Cornelius and Zira, does not like this one bit. He leads a rebellion with his fellow apes against mankind.

You have to give Roddy McDowall credit for playing the father and the son in the franchise. He’s the highlight of not only this movie, but the entire franchise. Conquest has a fascinating input of the Earth’s future; making modern ape slavery the subject of controversy. However, the results are a bit underwhelming. The music score is nothing compared to Jerry Goldsmith’s scores in the previous films (his score for Escape is perhaps my favorite). The tone feels as dry as the Sahara desert. The rebellious climax can be suspenseful and a ton of fun to watch, some of the lighting can be dark at times. Caesar’s final speech never fails to send shivers down my spine.

2.5/4

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Source: Collider

Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) – Caesar has officially ruled the Earth. His job is to keep peace between his fellow apes and the surviving humans. However, gorilla General Aldo (Claude Akins) begs to differ about keeping humans on their planet. As a group of humans want to gain back their once-beloved civilization, this results in an “epic” battle between the apes and humans.

Is it just me, or have the ape costumes gotten sillier in each sequel? Nothing comes closer than this atrocious sequel. With the exception of the beginning and end, almost every shot looks so cheaply-made (not to mention the movie having a budget of about $2 million). The narrative is a straight-up mess. I mean…how do the modern apes make that quick transition from being enslaved to ruthless leaders?

The title battle is just as embarrassing as it is boring. There is one point in which the same shot of a tree house burning down is used twice. Even Roddy McDowall cannot save this movie from being an absolute disaster. Easily the worst in the franchise.

1/4