DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
Much has been said about the horrible hell that was the 2014 summer movie season. I think that’s a little short-sighted. The Transformers movie was allegedly not very good, but which Transformers movie ever has been? For every The Amazing Spider-Man 2, there was a X-Men: Days of Future Past, for every Tammy, there was a 22 Jump Street. All in all, I think we did OK this summer. But public perception means more than actual stats or opinions, and public perception is that the summer of 2014 was garbage. And this feeling, this need for something that was better than average, may have elevated Dawn of the Planet of the Apes to more of a modern classic than it actually deserves.
Three years later, I’m still shocked by how much I liked Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I wake up every morning, look at the poster of Caesar on my ceiling, and say “Damn. That movie was pretty good.” It’s not just a shock because it’s a prequel/sequel/reboot/remake, and the odds of those being good are pretty low, but also because it’s essentially a drama, a character piece covered in CGI and wrapped up with the third act of an action movie, which was thrilling, but unnecessary. There was a lot of talk about Andy Serkis, who plays the computer generated Caesar, getting one of those Supporting Actor nominations thrown his way, just to let him, and the world, know that we acknowledge his greatness. I’m not sure we need to go that far, but Serkis, and in turn Caesar, was definitely the star of the first movie, luring an unsuspecting nation into rooting for the humans to die as brutally as possible.
Serkis is still clearly the star here, but as the franchise switches genres, and goes from drama-with-action to full-blown-action, there’s much less for him to do. The stakes are higher on a global scale – the future of the human species is in question here – but the personal stakes, the coming of age tale and the act of self-discovery, get lost in yet another story about violence, and the differences between MLK and Malcolm X. The aforementioned X-Men film series gives us this in a clearer, if not better, way, and in the end, you wonder if even DOTPOT Apes knows what it’s trying to say, other than it knows it has to try and say something.
The human characters are so flat and inconsequential that they are barely worth mentioning, which I’m fine with. The roles and performances of Caesar and Koba, Caesar’s right hand man who eventually decides that Caesar is too chummy with the humans, are much richer, and much more fun to watch. Caesar allows humans into the Ape Village, because doing so will keep the two species from going to war. Koba doesn’t give a fuck. Humans jacked his face up, and now need to pay the price. Caesar’s main goal is to protect the apes at all costs. Koba’s is too, he just knows not to trust the humans. Killing them now means that, in the long run, more apes will be protected. Which one is right? It’s Caesar, for no other reason than he’s the main character. He’s the likable, scarless one, and he’s the one we all fell for in the first movie. The humans don’t give us any reason to think they are worth saving, particularly Gary Oldman’s character, the leader of the humans, whose first, last, and only idea is to kill all of the apes. Koba’s plan is the one that makes the most sense, but this eventually leads to Koba’s demise. See, Caesar isn’t anti-violence, he’s anti-violence that he doesn’t give the green light to. Maybe this is the case for all leaders. After all, the president is also the Commander in Chief. But it’s also a little confusing.
Every time DOTPOT Apes seems like they are about to dip more than just a toe into the confusing waters of dealing with war and violence, explosions and screaming fill the soundtrack, drowning out any hope of thinking. Sometimes, that war and violence is cool, and you’re not worried about a lack of thought. Most of the time, particularly toward the final third, it feels like action for action’s sake, forsaking the leisurely pace of the first movie to fit in better with the other action movies surrounding it. The story of Caesar is an interesting one, and if this movie mainly serves as the bridge between the first and third movies, it could have been worse. But here’s to hoping that the third movie takes a breath as deep as the first one did, and once again lets us get inside this compelling, revolutionary protagonist. Wait…I just found out that it will most likely be called War of the Planet of the Apes. Oh well.
JINGLE ALL THE WAY 2
I have only seen this seven times, which isn’t enough to properly dissect every subtextual deconstruction of today’s consumer society. Please give me a few more days to watch this a couple more times.
JUSTIFIED: THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON
***1/2 (out of ****)
Sometimes people get confused, and think that “worst season” means “bad season.” Mad Men had a worst season. So did The Wire and Breaking Bad. But I don’t think that means that you should just not watch it. I mean, we’re not talking Roseanne winning the lottery here. In it’s fifth and penultimate season, we find Superstar Deputy Marshall Raylen Givens going toe-to-toe against another white trash family, this time led by Michael Rappaport. It’s a long way off from the series highs of Margo Martindale in season 2, but no matter what, Raylen Motherfucking Givens is in every single episode, so how bad could it be? There might be a little too much Dewey, and there’s never going to be enough Boyd, but the whole thing comes together perfectly in the end, making the wait for season six seem like an eternity.
LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION
**1/2 (out of ****)
Just seven years after the release of Space Jam, with the nation still trying to recover from its sheer delight, Warner Bros. tried to keep the franchise going with Looney Tunes: Back in Action. The country collectively didn’t give a fuck. I’m not here to argue that they were wrong, but I will say that today, with none of the pressure of being the Space Jam follow-up, Back in Action doesn’t totally basterdize everything we grow up loving. It’s too loud, too frenetic, too…2003-ish, but, it still has its moments, making you realize that mediocre Bugs and Daffy is still a lot better than the best Penguins or Minions.
MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON
75TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION
**** (out of ****)
I’d say that this is perfect timing, but I’m not sure there’s ever been a time since 1939 where the entire country didn’t need to sit down and watch this movie together. The Capra-esque values can still induce some eye rolls, but just like It’s a Wonderful Life, that other Capra/Stewart callabo, it’s a lot darker than you might remember, although no one in Mr. Smith slaps a kid in his bad ear until it bleeds (Hot Dog!). The movie, on Blu Ray for the first time, also includes five featurettes, a feature-length doc, and commentary from Frank Capra’s son, who constantly discusses the director’s love for hitting children in the ear.
THE SIMPSONS: THE SEVENTEENTH SEASON
I swear to God I’ve seen every single episode in this season. But looking through the list of episodes, I couldn’t find a single thing to talk about. How is the 17th season of The Simpsons different than the 16th or 18th? It’s a good question, but it’s probably a pretty safe bet that neither the 16th nor 18th season has an episode with this plot description: “After blowing Springfield’s chances for an NFL franchise, Grandpa goes to an assisted-suicide center, then becomes a bullfighter.” You’ll never stop The Simpsons, indeed.
THE STRAIN: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON
I think there was a time in our recent lives when we were counting on The Strain to be good television. It was on a dependable network (FX), had movie people attached (Guillermo Del Toro), and it felt like we were on the verge of getting a great horror television show (although I think Hannibal definitely counts). Now that the first season is over, and we know that it’s not going to save television, much less horror television, The Strain can officially settle in as a pretty sweet way to kill a flu-riddled weekend. The hokey dialogue and cardboard characterization forced The Strain to buckle under the pressure, but not that it can be watched (or fast forwarded) in its entirety, its a good time to get caught up.
– Ryan Haley