2018 Summer Movie Review: Lean on Pete

Lean on Pete

15-year-old Charley (Charlie Plummer) begins helping jockey Bonnie (Chloe Sevigny) in Lean on Pete, Andrew Haigh’s first American film. (Source: Collider)

I wrote it once, and I’ll write it again: A24 is killing it!

From the Best Picture winner Moonlight to last year’s astonishing coming-of-age film Lady Bird to the haunting tearjerker A Ghost Story, the studio keeps bringing forth some of the most unique and the most amazing films in recent memory. They never do it better when they distribute films about poverty. Last year’s The Florida Project was a gritty yet unforgettable film about poverty from the point-of-view of a 7-year-old girl, who spends most of her time getting into trouble. It features natural performances from the kids and showcases one of Willem Dafoe’s best performances of his long career.

Since the 20th century, films about poverty have always been the most endearing because we see the characters struggle to live on a day-to-day basis. Lean on Pete (the first of two films coming this year featuring a horse) is nothing compared to what we have seen in National Velvet, The Black Stallion, or even War Horse. British filmmaker Andrew Haigh (45 Years) delivers something dark yet totally real.

Based on Willy Vlautin’s novel of the same name, Charley Thompson (Charlie Plummer) is a 15-year-old living with his single father/warehouse worker Ray (Travis Fimmel) in Portland, Oregon. But–they are struggling to earn enough money because the loving yet irresponsible Ray is spending too much time at the house with women. One morning, while on his run, Charley comes across the Portland Downs nearby. Eventually, he is offered by horse owner Del (Steve Buscemi) a summer job at the racetrack. He becomes attracted to a failing horse known as “Lean on Pete”. When he learns more about the horse from Del and jockey Bonnie (Chloe Sevigny), Charley decides to take Pete on a hectic journey to Wyoming.

This movie goes in ways I have never expected! Plummer’s Charley has never made any friends in Portland until he connects with Pete. He cares about his father very much, but his main motivation is to find a permanent home with meals he can endure, and get a proper education while probably earn a football scholarship. He tells Pete stories about his whole family situation, particularly one where he wishes he lived in a nice home like one of his friends back in Spokane, Washington. The 18-year-old actor is a straight-up natural! Definitely one to look out for in the future!

Leading an excellent cast including Buscemi (providing some dark comic relief) and Steve Zahn as a homeless alcoholic who lives in a camper, Lean on Pete avoids melodramatic cliches to bring forth a subtle, unflinching, astounding film of U.S. poverty. Who knew another British filmmaker would make a future American cult classic? Haigh’s wonderful writing and direction are the icing on the cake. By far, the best movie of 2018!

I’m looking forward to seeing The Rider very soon.

4/4

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“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