Tagged: Woody Harrelson

Box Office Democracy: War for the Planet of the Apes

I’m honestly not sure why these Planet of the Apes prequels work so well.  On paper they’re a disaster: a trilogy of prequels to a movie that while historically significant is not relevant in the modern era except for having a famous twist ending everyone knows.  Every movie sets itself up as a conflict between humans and apes and the titles reveal that the humans don’t stand much of a chance.  They work because there’s a real heart here, there are great performances from both humans and CGI apes.  Everyone in War for the Planet of the Apes cares about the stakes so much that you can’t help but be completely invested.  These movies are beacons of earnestness in a cynical, sarcastic, landscape.

There’s a lot of plot in War and I’m not sure it’s all necessary.  Head ape Caesar (Andy Serkis) wants to lead his people out of the woods they’ve been living in since the last movie because it’s suddenly untenable.  There is word of some paradise out past the desert and the apes plan to move out.  I don’t want to spoil any of the emotional beats but Caesar ends up not going with the rest of the apes and instead goes with the only two characters I remember from the last movie and a newcomer and try to hunt down the colonel leading the aggressive human military (Woody Harrelson).  The colonel is afraid of a disease that is somehow taking higher brain function away from humans and this has put him at odds with other human factions.  This all ties together with a rescued human girl who has the disease and an awfully depressing ape concentration camp.

That’s a lot of story even for two and a half hours.  War wants to linger in the bigger moments, and it should— those are absolutely the strongest parts of the film— but it ends up throwing away good stuff.  The whole illness plot builds to the predictable end, the colonel contracts the disease and kills himself, but it happens with 20 minutes left in the movie and I don’t think it affected the outcome.  By taking the disease bit out of the climax and making it basically inconsequential all it actually does is give us a cop out for Caesar’s journey of revenge.  He doesn’t have to decide to kill the colonel.  Maybe the disease just exists to explain why the humans in the original Planet of the Apes couldn’t talk but that’s such a long way to go for something that no one really cared about in a movie from 1968.

This is a well-directed movie, a gorgeously shot movie, and the series features some of the best CGI acting I’ve ever seen.  Andy Serkis has been doing this for a decade but he’s amazing at doing performance capture.  I wouldn’t give him an Oscar for this part (it just isn’t nuanced enough) but it shouldn’t be discounted because of the medium.  In an era when it seems like all of the big budget action movies are jockeying to show how little their leads can care about anything, the Planet of the Apes franchise is going the other way.  Everyone in this movie cares a lot all the time.  There’s a family-like relationship here that is exactly like the one Fast & Furious would tell you they have, but here they show it instead.  I want these apes to feel happy and know peace even though in the fiction that means the death of most of the humans.  This movie has me rooting against my own people.

I understand that they have plans to make as many as two more in this series and as much as I enjoyed this one I sort of wish they would stop.  I don’t know how to escalate from here.  The last movie has a well-meaning human who was pushed too far.  This one had an actually evil human pushed too far.  I don’t want to see them try to heighten past ape concentration camps.  It’s either time to get in to the minutia of building an ape society (and maybe don’t try that) or it’s time for Charlton Heston to fall from the sky.  (I suppose it could be time for Mark Wahlberg to fall from the sky but gross.)  I want this series to stop feeling like it’s spinning its wheels and while the end of this one suggests they’re sensitive to that problem I’m ready to just get to it being a planet of apes by now.

Box Office Democracy: Triple 9

Triple 9 is a throwback to a different time. It’s the gritty kind of crime movie that seems to have been pushed out of the spotlight by slicker movies like the Fast & Furious franchise and by a run of bizarrely gritty cop films like End of Watch. Triple 9 feels more like a Training Day when it’s working and a bit like Smokin’ Aces when it isn’t. Triple 9 has a relentlessly tense script and a talented enough cast to round out a lot of the rough edges. The throwback element that didn’t work for me is that Triple 9 is an alarmingly racist movie. It’s also a very misogynistic movie, but it’s much harder to get to an alarming level with that what with the rest of pop culture.

Every non-white character in Triple 9 that has a name I remember six hours after walking out of the theater was a bad person. It’s a movie about corrupt cops that rob banks so there’s a fair amount of moral ambiguity expected, but it becomes a little much. Every Mexican character is evil and almost all of them are tattooed gang members who hang around in packs and menace the decent people of the world. The most telling thing is that the white people in Triple 9 are universally morally superior. Casey Affleck is the good cop, Woody Harrelson fights his demons but gets the bad guys, and Aaron Paul is the bank robber who’s conscience gets in the way and stops him from doing the really bad things. The exception is Kate Winslet as the ruthless mob boss but they go so far out of their way to establish that she’s the head of a Jewish mob that it still feels a little slimy.

Triple 9 is also relentless in objectifying women. With the exception of Winslet and Michelle Ang every actress in the movie is either a sex object, set dressing, or both. This is in the grand tradition of gritty crime films going back to the golden age of cinema: this is a movie about men and their masculine struggles. There are dozens of moments in the movie that come back to this but the one that stood out to me was when Teresa Palmer comforts Affleck when he’s struggling with his police work she walks away to reveal she was bottomless so we get a look at her butt. It didn’t reveal anything about her character or add anything to the script— it just seemed to indicate that the filmmakers thought so little of me as a viewer that I needed some naked flesh to draw me back in after two minutes of talking with no gunshots or explosions.

I’ve spent two paragraphs talking about some serious, constantly distracting, issues I had with Triple 9 but it was also an outstanding crime caper film. I was consistently on the edge of my seat, and that isn’t a phrase I like using but I was literally sitting forward in my chair a lot of the time. I am usually pretty good at seeing twists coming particularly in heist films and I was genuinely surprised at some of the turns they threw out in Triple 9. The main characters were deep and complex and the acting was incredible, particularly from perpetually underrated treasure Chiwetel Ejiofor. In another time this could have been a big summer blockbuster and with a slightly less weird script we might even be talking award nominations, but that time is gone— this isn’t the kind of movie people want anymore and it just feels so antiquated even with all the sleek filmmaking.

Tweeks: Giving Thanks For Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

Effie replaces Fulvia in MockingjayThe Tweeks are definitely Hunger Games fangirls, but how did the first half of the final book in the trilogy stand up in cinematic form?  This week the girls weight in on Francis Lawrence’s job of hobbiting (breaking a literary property into unneeded multiple movies) Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1.