Tag Archives: trilogy

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

If you follow this blog or know me personally, you’ll know War for the Planet of the Apes has been my most anticipated movie for three years, ever since the 2014 release of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, my most anticipated movie since 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the awesomeness that came out of nowhere to become my No. 1 film of that year. What can I say? I’m just obsessed with apes.

With expectations through the roof, I knew I was probably in for a disappointing experience, especially after the spectacular early critic reviews started rolling in a couple of weeks prior to the release (it’s currently 93% on Rotten Tomatoes). But I somehow managed to compose myself as I stepped into the cinema today, not too high and not too low, with as clean of a slate as I could bring.

And I was blown away.

Let’s just say War for the Planet of the Apes was as good as I expected, but—like its two predecessors—it also wasn’t what I was expecting. You know how you get an idea in your mind of how a movie is going to play out after you see a trailer or two? Well, War did not play out like how I thought it would. There are plot points I knew the film had to hit, and it does that, but the story was a little different, the progression was a little different, and there were some nice surprises thrown in for good measure. Kudos to the people who cut the trailer too because they didn’t show too much as I had feared.

Set two years after DawnWar pits ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) against a ruthless colonel played by Woody Harrelson in a war that will determine the fate of apes and humans. Despite being a film centred around apes, it’s a story full of humanity. It’s the reason why every entry in the trilogy works so well. Yes, there are the revolutionary special effects and the heart-thumping action, but the core of the films have always been about the humanity of the apes and the relationships between humans and apes and apes and apes.

The stakes are high and the feel of the film is epic, almost biblical. Indeed, there are various religious references as Caesar has shades of both Moses and Jesus. Matt Reeves, who helmed Dawn, returns again as director as well as co-writer of an excellent script along with Matt Bomback (who also wrote Dawn). As such, the look and feel of the film is closer to Dawn than Rise, with a sombre tone that has only a few lighter moments sprinkled throughout thanks to Steve Zahn’s new character, Bad Ape.

What really impressed me about Bomback and Reeves’ script is the way it pieces everything together, linking up not just the other films in the series but also the original 1968 adaptation with Charlton Heston. I also liked the allusions to other classics which I won’t spoil. There are a few small holes and plot points I would have liked to have seen simmer for a little longer before being resolved, but it’s otherwise virtually seamless.

Needless to say, the action sequences are fantastic. War is indeed a war movie, and even though a lot of the blood and violence is toned down or skillfully avoided for rating reasons, you do get a lot of carnage and a feel for the horrors of war. However, it is because the characters are so well-developed that the action actually means something and provides that emotional punch rather than just loud noises and explosions, something another movie I saw recently (ah hem, Transformers 5), failed at miserably.

And of course, the special effects. Weta Digital once again proves it is the best in the business and absolutely deserves an Academy Award for making Caesar and all the apes come to life once again. The amount of detail on the apes’ faces, especially the close-ups, is jaw-dropping and conveys as much emotion as any human performance. No other film CGI I’ve seen has been able to capture the soul in the eyes quite like this franchise has, not even Rogue One or The Jungle Book. The special effects are so good that you don’t really even think about them during the movie—you simply take it for granted.

Speaking of Oscars, it’s about damn time Andy Serkis gets at least a nomination for his portrayal of Caesar. This whole film, this entire franchise, has hinged on his performance capture, and Serkis once again hits it out of the park. The emotional depth he conveys with every facial expression, every look, every movement of his body, is just amazing. The other apes are also very good, but Serkis is what makes War the film that it is.

On the human side, Woody Harrelson is a splendid and perfectly cast villain who delivers both a terrifying madness but also enough humanity to make us understand his actions. A lesser actor would not have been able to pull it off, especially a couple of longer monologues of exposition that could have been dry without Harrelson’s intensity and charisma.

War for the Planet of the Apes is the finale I had been dreaming of, a finale that completes one of the best movie franchises of all time. Yes, I’m putting it in the same category as The Godfather trilogythe original Star Wars trilogy, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and of course, the Harold and Kumar trilogy (just kidding). It really is that good, both in isolation and as part of the wider series. I don’t think it’s a stretch to call it a masterpiece.

5 stars out of 5

Fifty Shades Darker (2017)

Fifty Shades Darker — or as I like to call it, Fifty Shades Boring-er — is the Fifty Shades of Grey sequel no one was waiting for. I won’t repeat my epic rant about the first film, but essentially, it was a piece of crap, and so I had zero expectations this time around. This was particularly so as I had read the second book and knew just how abysmal the source material is.

Fifty Shades Darker picks up shortly after the end of Fifty Shades of Grey. Protagonist Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) has split from her impossibly good looking, wealthy, controlling, and perverted boyfriend, Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). I think it had something to do with all the S&M shit he was into and some contract she had to sign so they could engage in kinky stuff. Whatever. She’s now working at some publishing company where her boss Jack (Eric Johnson) fancies her.

It’s not the most horrible premise, though it does not take long for the story to nosedive. You would think the film would take a bit of time before reuniting the lovers, to build up a bit of excitement and yearning. But of course they don’t. Every reason they broke up in the first place is quickly and conveniently thrown out the door despite there being no change in circumstances. The power of incredibly bland and boring sex can overcome all challenges.

Sadly, the script follows the novel written by EL James quite closely and sabotages itself at every possible turn. It creates potential scenarios for tension and then quickly resolves them in the lamest ways you can think of. Each plot point comes and gets immediately resolved one after the one in a linear fashion until the excruciatingly bad and suspenseless “cliffhanger” ending. I can’t say much more than that without spoilers, but you get the gist.

The biggest sin Fifty Shades Darker commits is that it is insanely boring. It is one of the flattest films I’ve seen in a long time, with no ups or downs or changes in direction or tone. It just plods along in a straight line with very low stakes and somehow manages to sustain that for a ridiculous 131-minute running time. There is just no tension between the leads and no character development. It even throws in a few poorly executed and lame thriller movie cliches in an attempt to “spice things up”, but the results are laughable. The kinky stuff also falls into the category of boring. For all the hoopla about the books, the sexy time in the movies is anything but sexy. You could find more titillating action on just about any cable TV show these days. It really is astonishing that the film is directed by James Foley, the same dude who gave us the explosive Glengarry Glen Ross!

The acting—well, it’s not atrocious, I suppose. Dakota Johnson does her best, though Jamie Dornan clearly looks like he’s not having a good time. It’s as though he knows he made a big mistake in signing up for the role. He can’t hide it. The other supporting actors (Rita Ora, Luke Grimes, Marcia Gay Harden, Max Martini) return to fruitless role, while Kim Basinger goes through the entire film with a look which suggests that she feels torn between the paycheck she received for her performance and knowing what a shit film she’s in.

So yeah—shitty story, boring as hell, lame sexy time, and barely acceptable performances. Fifty Shades Darker is the gaaaaarbage everyone expected it to be. That said, I actually think the movie is an improvement on the book. At least the script not as diabolical as the source text, which is absolutely all over the place, waffles on, and has downright embarrassing dialogue all the way through. The film appears to have tried to pare these things back to the best of its ability. The scary thing is that the third book, Fifty Shades Freed, from memory at least, is the worst book of the trilogy. Can’t wait to see the adaptation next year.

1.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Before Midnight (2013)

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It usually takes me a little while to get around to reviewing a movie after watching it, but I’m making an exception for Before Midnight, the third and final installment in Richard Linklater’s brilliant 20-year trilogy. Continuing the story of its predecessors, 1995’s Before Sunrise and 2004’s Before Sunset, this one follows Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s characters Jesse and Celine on a holiday in Greece, which not only provides closure after the cliffhanger ending in the second film, but also brings us up-to-date with what has happened to them and their relationship over the past decade (which I won’t spoil here).

I loved the first two films and of course I loved this one too. Hawke and Delpy, both of whom worked on the screenplay with Linklater, are just the best on-screen couple ever. The chemistry between them was amazing 20 years ago and remains amazing now, but it’s also evolved and matured as they’ve aged. As a result, their interactions feel so genuine and so full of raw emotion that when watching the film I often forgot they are not a couple in real life.

The astounding thing about the Before trilogy is that every film is similar on paper but completely different in terms of themes and emotional impact. All three about the relationship of Jesse and Celine. They are all dominated by conversation about love and life, sometimes about deep things, sometimes about trivial things, but always traversing engaging topics. They are each set in a different city (Vienna, Paris, and now the Peloponnese in Greece) and feature long walks that show off their beautiful scenery.

Before Sunrise, however, was magical love story about two young people making a real connection, whereas Before Sunset, which I thought was even better, was all about the pain of missed opportunities and wondering what could have been. On the other hand, Before Midnight (which many have mistaken for a horror film title, by the way), is about the harsh, and often heartbreaking realities of what happens after the happily ever after, and asks us whether the struggles and disagreements and sacrifice are, perhaps, what true love is ultimately all about.

In many ways, Before Midnight is the by far the most cynical of the three, but it is also the most down to earth. As beautiful as their one night in Vienna was 20 years ago, a relationship cannot just be about one night. There are countless forces working against couples in the real world, from children, to ex-partners, to work, and so forth, not to mention that the nature of the relationship itself can change drastically over time. It may have felt at one stage that Jesse and Celine were meant to be together forever, but after all this time, are they still truly in love? Are they still passionate about each other? And what is the nature of that love, that passion? That is what the film explores, and it does so with incredible direction, performances and dialogue.

One of the opening sequences, a 12-minute, single-take conversation between Jesse and Celine as they drive past the beautiful Greek countryside, is a perfect illustration of why this trilogy is so special. Another one of my favourite scenes (apart from the climatic and perfect ending) has Jesse telling the other men staying with him at the Greek villa the contents of his novels, which evoke clever parallels with the film trilogy. Unfortunately, Before Midnight inexplicably missed out on the Golden Globes completely apart from a single nomination to Delpy, and it will be interesting to see if it gets any nods at the upcoming Oscars.

Granted, Before Midnight will not be everyone’s cup of tea. While it is occasionally funny, it is at times also difficult to watch. People who haven’t seen the first two films will definitely not appreciate it as much because they don’t know the characters as well (which is why you should definitely see them in chronological order), and could find some of the conversations bordering on pretentious or unnecessarily sexualized. But if you were caught up in the magic, like I have been since Before Sunrise, you’ll understand who these flawed people are and appreciate that you are watching the memorable conclusion to what is without a doubt one of the best — if not the best — dramatic trilogies of all time.

4.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

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Why is Jennifer Lawrence so awesome?

Finally, back to the cinema! I had been dying to watch The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the second installment in the trilogy, since the credits started rolling on the first film, which I thought was a brilliant adaptation of a fine book. Expectations were especially heightened given that the second book is my favourite of the entire series.

My first impression of Catching Fire is: very good again, on par with the first film in terms of execution and remaining faithful to the source material, but falling a little short of my lofty expectations. In many ways, it’s simply an extension of the first film (despite replacing director Gary Ross with Francis Lawrence, who did I Am Legend and Water for Elephants), with the same structure, mood and tone (unlike the first few Harry Potter movies where each installment was like a standalone adventure), a tale that has no real beginning and no real end, which I’m sure affected the overall experience.

No time is wasted in setting up the premise this time as audiences are presumed to know the kind of world the film is set in and what the characters just went through. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has returned back to District 12 along with co-winner Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) and live in the almost ghost town-like winners village previously inhabited by the only other District 12 winner in history, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson). The trio are about to embark on a tour of the country to celebrate their victory, but the evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland), fearing that Katniss is becoming the symbol of a potential uprising, wants her dead. If you didn’t get any of that, chances are you’ll need to brush up on your Hunger Games knowledge, because there’s no spoon feeding of information this time around.

While the story is a continuation, it does go into more depth and explores their world and history in more detail. The characters are fleshed out more and relationships and alliances are questioned and tested. And don’t forget, there is that semi-love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and longtime friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth), which is played out with a minimal amount of cringe (at least when compared to Twilight). The love story is a key part of The Hunger Games, but it doesn’t dominate it, and we can all be thankful for that.

What I love about the book, which the film follows closely, is the clever way in which (I suppose I should say spoiler alert here) the story finds a way to bring Katniss and Peeta back to the Hunger Games arena again without making it feel like a rehash. The stakes are raised, the dangers are magnified, and the creativity of the head gamekeeper (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) is on full display. We are comforted by the return of familiar characters and excited by the addition of intriguing new ones, each with their own eccentricities and backstories and all appearing to be hiding a secret or two.

 

Unfortunately, the time in the arena is relatively short, or at least it feels that way. I complained about the overlong set up in the first film and I make the same complaint again here. It’s actually worse this time as the amount of real interaction between Katniss and her enemies feels quite limited, whereas the time out of the arena — the preparation, the training, the political posturing — felt much longer by comparison. And even though her foes this time are much more formidable we don’t get to see them nearly enough, especially after they have been hyped up beforehand.

One other complaint I have is the ending, which was incredibly exciting and cliffhangery in the book but came across as somewhat anti-climatic in the film. It was rushed, strangely, given by that time the film was already pushing 2.5 hours, and didn’t do enough to set the stage for the final chapter.

On the whole, there is still a lot to like about Catching Fire. For starters, Jennifer Lawrence is as awesome as ever, and this time she is joined by some really impressive names such as the aforementioned Hoffman, as well as Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Plummer, Jena Malone and Sam Clafin as a surprisingly good Finnick Odair. Returning stars such as Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci and Lenny Kravitz also make their mark without stealing any of Lawrence’s thunder. The second film in a planned trilogy is always tricky, but for the most part Catching Fire delivers with its star power, intriguing visuals and engrossing storyline. I do think the script may have followed the structure of the novels perhaps too closely — resulting in some of my gripes — and could have benefited from a less linear narrative structure, though when all is said and done it’s a solid effort and an enjoyable 2.5 hours of drama and action. I just think it could have been better.

3.75 stars out of 5

PS: I’m lowering my expectations substantially for the next two installments . Yes, they are also splitting the final book, Mockingjay, into two parts, damn moneygrubbers.

Movie Review: The Hangover Part III (2013)

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The Hangover Part III is a misleading title because, unlike the first two films in the series, there is no hangover involved. Everyone is, for the most part, sober, meaning the film is not (thankfully) rehashing the old formula where a bunch of guys wake up from being so drunk that they have to retrace their steps to figure out what on earth happened the night before. What Part III is, in effect, is a heist film, and I’m not quite sure if that is a good thing.

In the “epic finale” to the Hangover trilogy, the Wolfpack’s past catches up with them and they must help a gangster (played by John Goodman) track down insane escaped prisoner Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong). The Wolfpack spends the majority of the film running around trying to break into places and doing stupid stuff. Instead of trying to figure out what happened the night before, they are trying to figure out how to stay alive. It’s different to the formula that made the original such a huge hit, but after the vitriol that followed the second film, it was indeed time to make a change.

For me, the problem with Part III is that it’s still just not that funny. Most of the laughs, which are extremely hit-and-miss, still come from two sources — Zach Galifianakis’s mentally disturbed Alan, and the crazy and over-the-top antics of Ken Jeong as Chow. Both of these characters are essentially one-trick ponies. Alan does and says stupid, infantile and random things, and Chow is just nuts. You may get a couple of giggles here and there if that’s your thing, but the act gets old in a hurry. And if you already had enough of both of these guys after the two previous films, then chances are you’ll hate this one.

On the positive side, at least the plot is different to its two predecessors, and because of that there is an element of freshness. But even as a heist film, it’s still not very good. The ideas and the action are all rather stale and offer no genuine excitement. I guess it’s hard to get excited when you never really cared about any of the characters.

Now keep in mind, I wasn’t one of those people who fell madly in love with the original Hangover, which was an instant hit lauded for its outrageousness and comedic sting, and more or less made the careers of Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis (and to a lesser extent Ed Helms and Ken Jeong). I didn’t find it particularly funny apart from some unexpected Ken Jeong moments, and he got on my nerves after a little while. The second film was a disaster and one of the worst films of 2011. It was offensive and painfully unfunny.

So in comparison, I suppose Part III isn’t too bad. It’s better than the second film by default but lacks the explosiveness of the original, which I didn’t find that great either. It’s just a barely passable comedy, and only if you really like the stars.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Notwithstanding its less than ingenious title, The Dark Knight Rises is everything fans of Chris Nolan’s Batman trilogy could have hoped for. It is every bit as satisfying as the finales for other film series in recent times, such as Return of the King and Harry Potter 7. For me, it is right up there with The Dark Knight, The Avengers and the first Ironman as the best superhero movie of all-time. It is without a doubt the most EPIC.

The Dark Knight Rises takes place 8 years after the events of The Dark Knight (which is fair enough when you consider that Batman Begins was released in 2005). Batman has not appeared inGotham city since he took the fall for the death of Harvey Dent/Two-Face in order to preserve the former district attorney’s pristine legacy, and Bruce Wayne has become a crippled recluse. But as Selina Kyle (Catwoman) says, “a storm is coming”, and we all know it won’t be long beforeWayne is forced to don his famous black suit once more. But will it be enough? (And trust me, this film will make you question it).

Christopher Nolan clearly went all out for The Dark Knight Rises. After the success of The Dark Knight, expectations sky-rocketed and the pressure was on to deliver in the concluding chapter. So Nolan and his brother Jonathan upped the ante on everything:

  • An intricate and ambitious plot that links all three films together and is loaded with back stories, emotional confrontations and twists and turns.
  • An enormous cast of characters, some old and some new, and many of whom have substantial roles and screen time.
  • One of the most physically imposing villains ever in Bane.
  • Fight scenes and battle sequences so mammoth in scale and intensity that it dwarfs anything and everything that has been done in the series.
  • Even the running time of 165 minutes sets a new record (Batman Begins was 140 minutes; The Dark Knight was 152 minutes).

So does bigger and longer necessarily mean better? Not always, but in this case the sheer epic-ness of the film certainly goes a long way in making up for its miscues. On the whole, The Dark Knight is probably still the most “complete” film of the series, but when placed in context, The Dark Knight Rises is arguably the most satisfying.

In my humble opinion, and I know it’s probably an unpopular one, Tom Hardy’s Bane is every bit as worthy of a villain as Heath Ledger’s Joker. For starters, Hardy’s physical transformation was astounding. It’s crazy to think that this was the same guy that I recently saw in This Means War. Even his physique in Warrior did not come close. The Joker was a mad dog, a psychopath, a switchblade that can cut you up in a lot of ways; Bane, by contrast, is calm, calculated, and a brutal physical specimen capable of tossing Batman around like a ragged doll. He’s a nuclear warhead.

The spectacular first scenes of the film introducing us to Bane set the tone so perfectly. It’s one of the most exciting sequences of the entire trilogy and reminded me a lot of the best Nolan’s Inception had to offer.

There are two other Inception cast members to make the jump to Gotham city. Marion Cotillard plays the lovely Miranda Tate, an executive of the Wayne Enterprises board who becomes the key to saving the company. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, one of my favourite actors and one of Hollywood’s most versatile (I mean, come on, Brick, 500 Days of Summer, Hesher and now this?), plays passionate young cop John Blake. He is the standout of the film, along with….

Anne Hathaway, who really surprised me as Selina Kyle, the master thief better known as Catwoman. I’ve always been a bit on the fence with Hathaway and felt she was a little overrated as an actress, but man, she nailed this one. Not just physically – the performance itself was brilliant, providing a much-needed exuberance and vitality to an otherwise intensely “dark” film.

The rest of the returning cast was also stellar. I can’t believe I haven’t even mentioned Christian Bale yet. There’s isn’t much to say except that he’ll likely go down in history as the best Batman ever. Not bad for a guy who has also been Patrick Bateman, John Connor, Dicky Eklund and The Machinist.

Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman; plus a few cameos from the big names from the two earlier films (sadly, of course, except Heath Ledger) – that is a ridiculous cast, and it amazes me that it never felt like they would overshadow or be a distraction to the film.

The only obvious weak links in the cast are two dudes I ordinarily love: Matthew Modine’s deputy police chief, who was responsible for much of the film’s clunky dialogue and lack of subtlety (I still love him; I mean, come on: Full Metal Jacket, Birdy, Married to the Mob, Memphis Belle, Pacific Heights), and Aussie Ben Mendelsohn, who was somewhat awkward and over-the-top as Wayne’s corrupt business rival.

I have a few other relatively minor complaints. After watching The Dark Knight Rises I went back and rewatched the first two films in the trilogy, and realized that they employed a lot more humour – something that was sorely missing in The Dark Knight Rises. The other thing I noticed was that Batman had more cool gadgets and made better use of his utility belt in the earlier films – in this one all the attention was on the Batplane.

If you really want to get picky, I suppose there were parts in the second act that felt plodding, but the same probably could be said for all three films in the series. All is forgotten by the time the epic third act rolls around in any case.

By the way, many of the plot points don’t make a whole lot of sense if you really think about it. But hey, this is a superhero movie about a guy dressed up as a bat, so suspension of disbelief should have been a prerequisite. And I’m sick of people trying to read into and getting caught up in the film’s supposed political and societal messages – why can’t people just enjoy a Batman movie for what it is? Please, no more September 11 analogies.

The Dark Knight Rises is far from perfect, but it’s one of those films where I just went, “stuff this, I just want to enjoy it.” Strictly speaking, it’s probably not a 5-star film, but what the heck.

5 stars out of 5!

PS: I wouldn’t recommend it if you haven’t seen the movie yet, but if you have, check out this awesome featurette.