“In The Bedroom”: A Haunting Maine Tale

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Matt (Tom Wilkinson) and Ruth Fowler (Sissy Spacek) are stricken with grief in Todd Field’s 2001 indie drama In the Bedroom. (Source: The Playlist)

In 2016, a little movie came out called Manchester by the Sea. Set in a small New England town, it contained a powerful message involving grief. As Lee, the main character, returns to his old hometown, his past slowly begins to creep up on him after his brother dies. Its depiction of New England feels as if the audience is watching real people battling really tough situations (not to mention, the way they talk).

Fifteen years earlier, there was a movie that received unanimous praise when it premiered at Sundance. It also became the first movie from a major film studio (Miramax) that was not only set, but also filmed in the beautiful State of Maine. In the Bedroom (2001) does sound like the title for a sexy thriller, but director Todd Field (Eyes Wide Shut) creates a little something that will haunt viewers once the credits begin to crawl.

Based on the short story Killings, Frank Fowler (Nick Stahl) has recently returned home to Camden, Maine, to work on the harbor after graduating from college. He plans on going for a graduate degree in architecture. His father Matt (Tom Wilkinson) is a local doctor, who loves listening to the Boston Red Sox on the radio. His mother Ruth (Sissy Spacek) is a music teacher at the Rockland High School, who is teaching a summer music program.

However, they are both concerned about their son. The reason being is because Frank is dating a woman named Natalie (Marisa Tomei), who is twice his age and has two young children. When Natalie’s ex-husband Richard (William Mapother, Lost) returns to make things right for Natalie and the children, all hell begins to break loose.

The titular “bedroom” refers to the back compartment of the lobster trap. As Matt explains early on, the lobster enters the trap (“kitchen”) As it catches the bait, it soon becomes trapped (“bedroom”). While showing an injured lobster to one of the kids, he says if there are more than two lobsters in the “bedroom” compartment, something like that is going to happen.

This becomes a metaphor throughout the film. For instance, the scene where Richard comes into the house to shoot Frank dead. This becomes the set-up of what is to come of our main characters. Matt and Ruth begin to grieve over their son while being forced to see Richard out on bail, which ticks Ruth off after hearing he’s only accused of manslaughter.

The performances from the all-star cast are one-of-a-kind. But–Spacek and Wilkinson really carry it home. Out of the five Oscar nomination this movie received, they were both nominated, respectively, for Best Actress and Best Actor. Known for his performances in The Full Monty, Michael Clayton, and The Grand Budapest Hotel, the British actor never lets his accent slip to give such an emotionally moving performance. Same goes to Spacek, who rose to fame with Badlands, Carrie, and winning an Oscar for Coal Miner’s Daughter. She gives one of her best performances as Ruth. Notice how she isolates from Matt. They both avoid discussing their pain while dealing with this tragedy. Then, they confront each other in one of the most natural arguments ever put to film. Matt accuses Ruth of being “too controlling”, while Ruth accuses her husband by letting Frank “get away with everything.” This indicates why Matt decides to plan an act of revenge to make them settle the tragedy once and for all.

With his slow-burning screenplay and sensitive direction, Field allows the viewer to understand Matt’s world and his morality of the whole situation. Hell, even Matt’s friends begin to understand what he and Ruth have been going through. In one scene, he and his friends are playing cards one night. Everything goes silent. Until Carl (W. Clapham Murray), who loves reciting poems, quotes a verse from “My Lost Youth” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

There are things of which I may not speak;
There are dreams that cannot die;
There are thoughts that make the strong heart weak,
And bring a pallor into the cheek,
And a mist before the eye.
And the words of that fatal song
Come over me like a chill:
“A boy’s will is the wind’s will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”

The scene would have gone down as manipulative. What makes it work, though, is it steers clear of all those cliches about losing someone dear. Take a look at Matt’s face after the recitation. He knows there is something that needs to be done. Everything was going just fine until the tragedy. His friends are always there for him no matter what. The poem serves as a reminder to avenge what was so wonderful in life and to have it all thrown away in a blink of an eye. When the climax comes, it’s damn near impossible to look away.

In the Bedroom is one of those rare dramas from the early 2000s that hits all of the right notes. There will never be any other movie set in Maine containing so much raw emotion from its characters. It’s one of those movies I’ll watch for the rest of my life.

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“Once”: An Indie Musical Masterpiece

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Two musicians (Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova) develop a friendship in John Carney’s masterful indie musical Once. (Source: TIME)

John Carney used to be the bassist for the Irish indie-rock group The Frames before becoming a filmmaker. On a shoestring budget of $150,000 (or €112,000), he decided to make a musical set in modern-day Dublin. With the lead originally intended for Cillian Murphy, he eventually cast two professional musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, which they met when Irglova was only 13-years-old. Her father booked The Frames to perform at a musical festival he organized. Hansard helped her develop her own music career. Their affections towards each other make Once (2007) all the more authentic.

A down-on-his-luck busker–dubbed in the credits as “Guy” (Hansard)–spends most of his days playing guitar and his performing songs on the streets of Dublin. He would play songs that people are familiar with during the day (the movie opens up with him performing Van Morrison’s “And the Healing Has Begun”), and perform his songs only at night. Every now and then, he works at his father’s (Bill Hodnet) vacuum cleaner repair shop.

One day, Guy meets a Czech immigrant–dubbed “Girl” (Irglova)–who sells flowers on the streets and also works as a nanny. She, too, happens to be a musician. Case in point, she plays the piano. After Guy talks about his plans of earning a record label in London, the duo decide to write music together.

I appreciate it whenever non-professional actors do their best in front of the camera without assuming they will earn any awards. Sometimes, the results can be dull and wooden. What Hansard and Irglova do here is more than just giving a performance. The two feel like real people with real ambitions. The movie shows how sympathetic they are for one another, despite one might have his heart-broken by an ex-girlfriend, who moved to London, and might get her back one day (in one scene, Guy improvises a short yet amusing song called “Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy” while the two sit on a bus). During the scene where the two pander at the view of the Irish coast, he asks her if she loves her husband. She tells him, “Miluju tebe”, which means “I love you” (it wasn’t subtitled). The line was, in fact, ad-libbed, which makes Hansard’s reaction feel all the more genuine.

The music is nothing short of delightful. With most of the songs playing live, they showcase the talents of these wonderful musicians. They play their first song, “Falling Slowly” (which won an Oscar for Best Original Song), in a music store, which sets off their relationship off in a good war. The song goes perfectly with the theme about anything is possible (“Take this sinking boat / And point it home / We still got time”). Guy has his dreams of making it big after being heartbroken, so the duo meet by chance and begin performing with each other. However, they decide to use a personal loan for an all-night recording session with a band called Interference. In one of the movie’s most emotional scene, Girl plays a breathtakingly haunting song called “The Hill”, about a relationship breaking apart, while the band is having a break. In the middle of the song, she breaks down crying. She later said she wrote it for her husband, in which he did not like. I also love the scene where Girl listens to Guy’s music on a CD player and rehearses a song (“If You Want Me”) while walking down the street at night. The smoothness of Carney’s direction, Tim Fleming’s cinematography, and Irglova’s singing makes for one beautiful scene.

The most understated quality is the dynamic between Guy and his father. I love how surprised Guy is by his father’s encouragement of going to London, and, undoubtedly, saying his songs will become big hits. It takes pride to earn that much respect for a loved one. Their relationship is as authentic as the relationship between Guy and Girl.

After their Oscar win, Hansard and Irglova began performing on tour worldwide as The Swell Season. Bob Dylan became such a big fan of the movie, he wanted the two to open up for him with The Frames on his behalf. Later, the duo recorded a cover of “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” for Todd Haynes’ 2007 film I’m Not There, based on Bob Dylan’s music. A lot of pressure in their relationship caused the two to break up. However, they are still recording music to this day. Hansard just released a great album “Between Two Shores”, and is releasing a new one in April. Irglova is now settled in Iceland, who has released two studio albums–“Anar” (2011) and “Muna” (2014).

As for John Carney, he went onto direct two more movies involving music. Begin Again (2014) was his first movie set in America–specifically New York City. Although it doesn’t hold the same magic as this movie, there is a lot to like. Sing Street (2016) was a miraculous movie, set in Ireland in 1985 about a group of teenagers starting a band, that got snubbed by the Oscars. From its old-fashioned filmmaking to the toe-tapping music, that movie will have people smiling once the credits start to roll. None of those movies will never compare to the understated beauty of Once.

“Call Me by Your Name”: A Friendship to Remember

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Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer) develop a beautiful friendship in Call Me by Your Name. (Source: Taste of Cinema)

Movies containing gay relationships are a mixed bag. If the movies handle the subject with care (i.e. Brokeback Mountain and Moonlight), they result in being poignant movies. If the subject is being exploited, they tend to be insensitive, disgraceful, and have the characters being portrayed as stereotypes. Only a few great filmmakers would put so much authenticity into their direction and their character development.

Italian director Luca Guadagnino (who is gay) is known for casting Tilda Swinton in his movies. Ten years after his feature debut, The Protagonists (1999), he became a household name when he directed the 2009 film I Am Love, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival of that year. A Bigger Splash (2016) was a good-ol’ time being around four people spending vacation in Sicily, from its gorgeous scenery to the erotic, sensual nature of its characters. Recently, he took charge in expanding the scary world of the Suspiria remake, by making it an hour longer than its original. However, it didn’t receive a warm reception, compared to his previous films. He would join screenwriter James Ivory to give his native country a brand new light in his 2017 film, based on a novel by Andre Aciman.

Nominated for 4 Oscars including Best Picture (with Ivory winning Best Adapted Screenplay), Call Me by Your Name is more than just a gay love story. It’s a coming-of-age story about the struggles of identifying oneself. It makes us wonder why we don’t get movies like this.

It’s the summer of 1983. 17-year-old Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet) is spending a quiet summer with his parents (Amira Casar and Michael Stuhlbarg) in a village in Northern Italy. He spends most of his time reading books and listening/transcribing classical music. Unlike Chiron in Moonlight, Elio is living in his own perfect world, but he is trying to come to terms with his adolescence.

One day, he meets a ravishingly handsome college student from New England named Oliver (Armie Hammer), who is 24 years old. He arrives in Italy to assist Elio’s father, a professor of archaeology, with his paperwork. Although he is in a relationship with a French girl named Marzia (Esther Garrel), Elio becomes increasingly attracted to Oliver each day. They spend the first act teasing and flirting with each other until their friendship begins to change their lives forever.

Every single shot in this movie is nothing short of breathtaking; you can smell the grass as Elio and Oliver ride their bikes through the countryside or as they lie down to get some sun after having a quick swim. There’s a scene where Elio plays a piece of music by Bach (in three different versions) on the piano for Oliver. Kudos to Guadagnino’s smooth direction and Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s stunning cinematography, the camera never cuts after each version he plays. With the focus going back-and-forth between Elio’s piano-playing and Oliver’s reactions, it gives the viewer the impression that sparks are about to fly.

The age-gap between the main characters might throw viewers off a bit. However, the age of consent in Italy was–and still is–14. The movie never suggests anything about molestation. The story about first love and desire contains a mature protagonist at its center, who is aware of his own surroundings and loves to explore. Hell, even his parents never look down his son, and they are always there for him whenever he needs a shoulder a cry on. The French story, in which the mother reads in one scene, asks the question, “Is it better to speak, or to die?”

It does take a lot of time knowing our star-crossed lovers, but everything about the movie works, due to–most importantly–the astounding performances by Chalamet and Hammer. I cannot imagine a perfect pair than these two great actors, who got along so well before, during and after making the movie. Their emotions are so raw, it makes it feel as if they are portraying actual people who love each other and embark on one helluva journey. After gaining indie stardom in Miss Stevens and Lady Bird, Chalamet is simply perfect as Elio, who, at first, has doubts about Oliver, particularly when he asks his parents if it’s arrogant whenever he says “Later”. Then, Elio puts Oliver’s red shorts around his head; foreshadowing their lust for one another.

He finds out they have one thing in common: they’re Jewish. One day, he sees Oliver wearing a necklace with the Star of David pendant. It begins to show that Oliver is not ashamed of who he truly is. Elio tells him that he and his family are only “Jews of discretion.” Eventually, we see Elio wear the exact same necklace and him celebrating Hanukkah with his parents. He shares the same feelings Oliver has. They become so attracted by each other’s statuesque appearances (notice the images of Ancient Greece) the same way their secrecy–with his religious beliefs and Oliver’s sexuality–brings the two together. When they walk around a World War I statue (representing a barrier for the two lovebirds), it becomes clear how hard it would be for them to leave each other’s side.

In one scene, Elio is eating a peach in the attic (one of his private hideouts). He takes a good look at the fruit. And then, he starts masturbating with it. Minutes later, Oliver shows up to see what his friend has been up to. Oliver sees the peach, and, playfully, tries to consume it, despite Elio’s denial. As strange as the scene is, it’s also hard not to shed a tear over Elio’s feelings. The peach symbolizes the desired intimacy between Elio and Oliver.

While the performances are superb, it shocks me, to this day, how Stuhlbarg hardly received any award recognition. Particularly his monologue near the end is enough to make cold-hearted people weep. He tells his son he would never have what he and Oliver had. “How you live your life is your business,” he says. “Just remember, our hearts and our bodies are given to us only once. And before you know it, your heart is worn out. And, as for your body, there comes a point when no one looks at it, much less wants to come near it.” The writing by Ivory is simply marvelous!

Call Me by Your Name is one of the most beautiful love stories ever captured on film. Thankfully, everyone will get to see more of how the relationship between Elio and Oliver has evolved in a sequel coming in 2020, following the tradition of Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy. It will capture the era where HIV/AIDS is becoming more perceptible. Who knows if it will be as powerful as its predecessor, but Guadagnino sums up this movie perfectly, in an interview with The Guardian: “[This movie] encompasses what I’ve found striking about life: that you can be a better person, and you can build a bridge to go and meet new people instead of confining yourself within your own boundaries.”

“La La Land”: A Modern Musical Masterpiece

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Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone dance the night away in La La Land, Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to Whiplash. (Source: Esquire)

Musicals have been extremely popular ever since the Great Depression leading to Hollywood’s Golden Age. They have the power to transport viewers to a light, whimsical world as a way to forget the harsh reality for awhile. The films starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, including Top Hat and Swing Time, had everyone smiling as the two stars danced as if they were weightless. After the Depression, more musical stars, such as Gene Kelly (Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris), Frank Sinatra (On the Town, High Society), Judy Garland (The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me in St. Louis, A Star is Born), danced and sang their ways to the top. With West Side Story, The Sound of Music, and Grease being some of the most popular musicals of the past century, only ten of them have ever taken home an Oscar for Best Picture. Most musicals of the 21st century–Across the Universe, High School Musical, and Mamma Mia!–are often harmless, but tend to be lousy and forgettable.

Enter Damien Chazelle. A 33-year-old Harvard graduate from Providence, Rhode Island, made his directorial debut with 2009’s Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, the black-and-white indie film he made in college following a jazz trumpeter falling for a shy girl in modern-day Boston. Following the marvelously dark story of a drummer’s road to becoming the greatest in Whiplash (2014), he would eventually use the same concept of his first film about star-crossed lovers making ends meet in La La Land (2016), winner of 6 Oscars including Best Director for Chazelle (becoming the youngest person to win such an award). However, it lost to Moonlight for Best Picture after a shocking mix-up.

One of those rare musicals not based on a novel or a famous play, the movie is rich in originality while paying tribute to musicals of the past–from the French musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg to the all-American classics mentioned above. Not only that, it stars two of the most gorgeous people working today: Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.

As the late Roger Ebert once said in one of his reviews, “The first time seeing the movie, I focused on the foreground, and liked it. The second time I focused on the background, too, and loved it!”

That’s the case of me seeing La La Land five times in theaters (plus many more to come). I always catch what I missed from before. It gets better with each viewing.

Set in modern-day Los Angeles, Mia Dolan (Stone, who won an Oscar for her role) is an aspiring actress working at a cafe in the Warner Brothers lot. She attempts to earn a big break, despite the numerous failed auditions she goes to. One night, after attending a party with her roommates, she goes to a nightclub and sees pianist Sebastian Wilder (Gosling), who also has dreams of his own of opening his own jazz club (“I’m letting life hit me until it gets tired. Then I’ll hit back. It’s a classic rope-a-dope”). Eventually, they fall in love.

We see how their storylines unfold leading up to their first encounter at the jazz club, owned by the fiery Bill (J.K. Simmons, in a small yet effective role). Spotlights shine down on one another as Sebastian plays a beautiful piano piece that would make Frédéric Chopin blush.

Yes, Ryan Gosling is actually playing the piano here. Prior to filming, he would practice two hours each day for three months to learn the music by heart. He wouldn’t play any other song on the piano other than the songs Sebastian plays in the movie. One thing that’s impressive about Chazelle as a director is he never uses doubles or CGI for the actor whenever they are playing a musical instrument. There isn’t a single second where any of the hard work Gosling had to endure felt wasted.

Chazelle’s collaborator and college roommate Justin Hurwitz joins the likes of Leonard Bernstein and Irving Berlin providing a marvelous score and memorable music numbers. In a film rich in color, it pays homage to Los Angeles. Like the Oscar-winning song “City of Stars”, it’s a city filled with hopes, dreams, and disappointments. The opening music number, “Another Day of Sun”, resembles the hopes of success despite the many challenges that have yet to be faced. Set during a traffic jam on a busy highway consisting of one six-minute long take (one of many continuous, long shots in the movie), the dancers start getting out of their cars and break into song and dance, singing a chorus that goes, “Climb these hills, I’m reaching for the heights, and chasing all the lights that shine, and when they let you down, you’ll get up off the ground, ‘cause morning rolls around, and it’s another day of sun.”

In another beautifully-choreographed music number, “A Lovely Night”, we see the two lovebirds walking the Hollywood Hills on a gorgeous spring evening after a pool party (one of the funniest scenes in the movie is when Mia dances and lip-syncs to a cover of Flock of Seagulls’ “I Ran” after encountering Sebastian–no wonder why she dominated “Lip Sync Battle” on the Tonight Show back in 2014). While they confessed they don’t have a connection, they begin teasing with each other until they put on their tap shoes and pull off a dance routine reminiscent of Astaire and Rogers. It’s entirely difficult not to smile and giggle during these scenes when they are together.

Jazz might be a dead genre, but Hurwitz brings it to pure light. Sebastian introduces Mia to his world of the genre after Mia discusses how her love for classic movies made her want to pursue acting. He mentions jazz is not just for listening, it has to be felt. “It’s conflict and it’s compromise, and it’s new every night,” he says. “It’s brand new every night. It’s very, very exciting!”

When Seb’s old buddy, Keith (John Legend), offers him to be in his band, he reluctantly accepts to be a part of his company. However, it conflicts his relationship with Mia (more on that later). Seb is taken aback by the contemporary, electronic style of jazz while he prefers the old-fashioned style of jazz, like Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker. “How are you going to be a revolutionary, if you’re such a traditionalist?” Keith asks him after rehearsal. “You hold onto the past, but jazz is about the future.” Another part of La La Land’s brilliance is the pure optimism these characters–especially Mia and Seb–have of going far and beyond, even though they get frustrated on how it might turn out at first.

La La Land contains the most realistic portrayal of love than any other romance film in recent memory. It also contains fantasy elements thrown into the mix, which is also a breath of fresh air. There are two spectacular sequences that contain no dialogue, and feel as if they are something out of a ballet. One is where Mia and Sebastian sneak into the Griffith Observatory planetarium after hours. They begin floating in the air and dance in the stars. It serves as a metaphor for their emotional connection with each other.

The other is the epilogue reminiscent to the “Rhapsody in Blue” sequence at the end of An American in Paris. It shows what would happen if Mia and Sebastian actually ended up together. They go through numerous luscious set pieces–all painted by hand, no less!–as if they have both stepped into a dream. With Linus Sandgren’s gorgeous cinematography, this movie is like a painting in motion!

After winning audience’s hearts in Crazy, Stupid, Love and Gangster Squad, Gosling and Stone are dynamite as the two lovers. While they wear gorgeous clothes (Gosling in a variety of suits, and Stone in a variety of dresses), their romance is filled with so much charm and humor. Not only can they dance, they can also sing well. No one can play a better dynamic duo than these two!

While Moonlight might have deserved its award for Best Picture of 2016 over this movie, La La Land will be a musical that will be discussed for years to come. It’s hard not to love an old-fashioned musical set in the present day. I hope Damien Chazelle will direct hundreds of movies after his upcoming film First Man, starring Gosling as Neil Armstrong, the first astronaut to ever set foot on the moon. La La Land is easily one of the best musicals of the century, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is adapted into a Broadway musical in the coming years. Mia’s song, “The Fools Who Dream”, sums Los Angeles’ portrayal perfectly:

“Here’s to the ones who dream, foolish as they may seem; here’s to the hearts that ache; here’s to the mess we make.”

“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.