Tag Archives: War

Best. Trilogy. Ever?

23 Jul

apesposter

Synopsis: “After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind.” (Rated PG-13; 2 hours, 20 minutes)
The Planet of the Apes trilogy that just concluded was one of the absolute BEST trilogies I’ve EVER seen…and in case it’s not evident, I’ve seen quite a few movies.
Beginning, middle and end, it was just so damn powerful. Yes, for anyone who assumes a big budget movie about simians has to be stupid, don’t judge it by its poster, nor the cheesy fun Charlton Heston films, nor the really mediocre remake by Tim Burton (who I generally love).
No, this trilogy by Matt Reeves is fantastic. The heartbreaking first one Rise of the Planet of the Apes with a tragically wonderful performance by John lithgow (whom I get to meet in a few months thanks to Adi!!!), the great second one Dawn of the Planet of the Apes which shows a hell of an internal conflict among the apes, and now the final chapter War for the Planet of the Apes, which has Woody Harrelson doing a hell of a Martin Sheen circa Apocalypse Now impression.
Throughout the trilogy, the perennially Oscar-snubbed Andy Serkis is PERFECTION as the Caesar. The visuals are flawless, the drama is taut, and other than Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings, I honestly can’t think of another trilogy that goes so wonderfully together. (Sorry, I love all of Back to the Future but the third is a huge loss in quality, the drop-off between the first two Godfather movies and the third is astounding, and many others including Harry Potter and James Bond have more than three great movies but they aren’t actually 3-story arcs, they simply have good and weaker chapters.)
Most people I know get annoyed when sequels are made to good movies, and I get that; they don’t want to see something great degrade in quality, so leave well enough alone. And I get that mentality, I do, I just happen to be a movie-LOVER and not a movie-SNOB (as evidenced by this blog), so I’m ALWAYS excited by the prospect of sequels (if I like the original), continuing stories and characters that I have loved and am excited to see continue. Sure, more often than not it disappoints (Zoolander 2, Independence Day: Resurgence, and countless other examples) but sometimes it exceeds expectations (each subsequent Captain America movie, Terminator 2) and sometimes it’s just bonkers and insanely different from the first one (Gremlins 2 was basically a Looney Tunes cartoon!), but I’m Boaz, and I proudly enjoy seeing what they do with it, and in most examples I enjoy the experience of seeing it play out. A disappointing sequel does not detract from my opinion of a great original. But this Apes trilogy was a different animal. It’s not just an excuse for a sequel, it was designed to have a start, middle and end. Not one part of any of it felt like an excuse to find more material to work with. And man oh man did it fire on all cylinders.
Anyway, see them. In order. Preferably on a big screen with good sound.
Oh, and the way this latest one started with a recap was so simple in design that it amazed me it’s never been done before. Sometimes it’s the little things that go unnoticed…

It was much better than any previous Planet of the Apes incarnation, and just as good as the previous two in the trilogy, which is a high bar.

Quality Rating: A+ (What did you expect from a post about putting it up there with Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings as the best trilogy I’ve ever seen?)

Boaz Rating: A+ (I was gripped from the first to the last minute, it had me laughing the few rare times of humor, and crying at the somber moments.)

Emperor (“My Thoughts On Movies Being ‘Based On A True Story'”)

22 Mar

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Synopsis: “As the Japanese surrender at the end of WWII, Gen. Fellers is tasked with deciding if Emperor Hirohito will be hanged as a war criminal. Influencing his ruling is his quest to find Aya, an exchange student he met years earlier in the U.S.” (Rated PG-13; 1 hour, 38 minutes)

There is a certain phrase all of us have seen in countless previews, posters and taglines for movies: “Based on a true story”. How much impact do those words have on your desire to see it? Do they actually affect your final judgment of how the movie made you feel, and how much you enjoyed it?

I have asked the question to dozens of friends over the years, when I have my typical “what movies do you like?” conversation. (You think I don’t know what flicks each of my movie-buddies will be interested in before they are released to theaters? Trust me, I quickly figure it out!) About half of my friends have replied that they love watching this type of film. In fact I have come to realize that along with comedy, drama and horror, being “Based on a true story” has become its own genre as much as the others. I have then followed up the questioning with, “What if the movie was exactly the same, and the ONLY difference was that it was completely fictional?” The answer by those same people more often than not: “In that case it depends if the movie is actually good”. Wait a minute, so a movie based on a true story doesn’t have to be any good to be of interest? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy most movies – even many of the lousy ones – but I’m supposed to be the exception; I have a movie obsession after all! The rest of the movie-going world is supposed to have more discerning taste, but it appears that many fans of biopics and “true stories” simply want a good old-fashioned history lesson, whether it’s about getting six Americans out of Iran (Argo), the unlikely story of a Jamaican bobsled team (Cool Runnings), or  the American deliberation about whether to arrest Japanese Emperor Hirohito immediately after World War II (Emperor). 

If I had to admit where I fall in this debate, I’d say that I’m somewhere in the middle. If the historical topic simply isn’t of interest to me, then I will not be swayed in the slightest by the fact that it happens to be a true story. I will enjoy or be bored by the movie solely based on the quality or entertainment-value of the movie itself, no differently than if it was a work of fiction. An example of this would be Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius, a true story about a golfer which doesn’t perk my historical interest, and the movie actually bored me when watching it. On the flip-side the film Miracle is about hockey, which interests me about as much as golf, but it is such an inspiring and exciting one that although it was wonderful knowing it was true, that is certainly not WHY I enjoyed it. At the same time, if I have a preexisting interest in the subject matter, then I will absolutely love the movie if it’s done well (i.e. Argo, Zero Dark Thirty), and I will cut it a lot more slack than I otherwise would if it is only mediocre, as with Emperor.

This is a subject I felt completely ignorant about when entering the movie: post-war Japan, and America’s role in deciding who was going to be charged with war crimes and who could be left in power. Japan had recently surrendered, and much of the USA was looking for “justice” from anyone responsible for the devastation wrought by the Japanese (in particular Pearl Harbor). As such, Matthew Fox’s character of General Fellers is tasked by Tommy Lee Jones’s General MacArthur to determine whether Japan’s highly revered Emperor Hirohito should be arrested and tried for war crimes. From the moment the movie began I was absolutely riveted because I felt completely clueless about this important part of our history, and everything else was seen through those biased eyes as a result. (I watched it with my friend Pamela, and it turned out she was on the exact same page about the movie, for entirely the same reason.)

I will therefore attempt to break down the technical merits or negatives of the movie, with as little bias as possible:

Acting – Tommy Lee Jones is always dependable, solid, and rarely out of his comfort zone as a serious, authority figure. He is just as good and unsurprising as ever as the iconic General MacArthur. Matthew Fox is certainly the focal point of the film, and does a solid, earnest, but somewhat safe and boring job investigating the potential crimes of the Emperor. I kept thinking about how much more dynamic Tom Cruise was in a similar role interviewing and investigating people in A Few Good Men. The most interesting roles of the movie come from some of the supporting Japanese characters who are being investigated. They are portrayed with a delicate balance of severe nobility, where you could sympathize with their inner sense of pride and honor that played such a huge part in their psyche during the war, but also doesn’t let them off the hook for their own brutal atrocities. Honestly the Japanese characters are probably portrayed with more depth and range than most of the one-dimensional Americans in the movie.

Romance – Lest I forget, the major subplot threading throughout the movie is Matthew Fox’s character searching for his long-lost Japanese love. This should have been the emotional core of the movie, but it is never developed well enough to make me care. Through a series of flashbacks that mostly made me wish I was watching Fox in Lost again, you see their characters meet-cute, and you kind of see them get together, but you never get that key scene where you feel WHY they love each other so much. That is simply the key to making the audience care about the characters, and it simply is missing from the movie. Thus the rest of the movie which hinges so much on this romance is simply not emotionally involving, and that’s a shame since it would have been so easy to add that one extra scene that could have connected them to the audience and avoided this emotional disconnect.

Direction – The director Peter Webber does not do anything particularly memorable here, but also does a competent job throughout the film. It felt like watching a really solid TV-movie about a fascinating subject. Peter Webber made two movies of note in the past: the very good little art-house film Girl With A Pearl Earring, and the disappointing but still interestingly made Hannibal Lecter prequel, Hannibal Rising. I feel like Webber went from having some sort of style and signature on his previous movies, to completely playing things safe with this one, which could have been made by anybody out of film school.

Story – This is what it all boils down to: the story was absolutely fascinating. I realized that the writing and the characters were often clichéd, and the romance didn’t reach me emotionally, but I just loved watching this under-reported (in movies at least) piece of history. I loved the detail put into the casting of each character and the intricacies of their clothing, something you can totally appreciate when the film ends and the real people are shown in photographs on the screen. It’s a history lesson I’m surprised I haven’t seen in movies until now, and it really poses quite the dilemma: On the one hand if the Emperor would be found liable for war crimes, much of the world would celebrate his demise much like they did with Saddam Hussein’s. On the other hand, if you took Japan which had surrendered and was being peacefully compliant, and arrested a man who they saw not only as a ruler but as somewhat godlike, then how much damage could that do to the fragile peace that had been achieved? And on top of that of course lies the question of what his actual guilt and culpability truly was during the war.

This brings me back full circle. I was absolutely fascinated, because it is a part of history that was of huge interest to me. I enjoyed watching it from the second I learned it was “Based on a true story”.

The movie was better than Clint Eastwood’s Flags Of Our Fathers, an earnest but surprisingly boring true story of the American/Japanese conflict in WWII. The movie wasn’t nearly as great as Letters From Iwo Jima, Clint Eastwood’s companion piece about the same conflict, but from the Japanese point-of-view. That was not only a fascinating look into the mindset of the Japanese, but it was done absolutely magnificently.

Quality Rating: B- (Competent film-making and acting plus a good story helped make up for its many ordinary flaws)

Boaz Rating: B+

Zero Dark Thirty

19 Jan

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Synopsis: “A chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the September 2001 attacks, and his death at the hands of the Navy S.E.A.L. Team 6 in May 2011.” (Rated R; 2 hours 37 minutes)

How do you surprise people watching a movie where they know the ending? This isn’t a new concept of course. I still remember in 1997 when Titanic was going to be released half my friends were mocking the idea that it’s going to be so dumb watching a movie where you clearly know that the iceberg is going to sink the ship, so what’s the point of watching. Or to give a lesser known story done more recently, Argo came out and although it was only a relatively recently declassified true story, most people knew the ending before they saw the movie. It was basically discussed in promoting the movie, not even treated as a spoiler. Clearly in both examples, great movie-makers were able to demonstrate that there are ways to show the journey to get to that ending that can not only interest and entertain you, but can even scare you and keep you at the edge of your seat wondering, “How the hell are they going to pull this off?!” while at the same time realizing that you know they WILL because you know the ending.

How awesome it is when a director can accomplish such a great feat as that! It’s almost like a magic trick where the director/magician taunts the audience, “You’re going to know how this ends, and that you’ll be alright, but I’ll scare you into doubting what you know anyway.” James Cameron did it with Titanic by giving us fictional characters to root for with their own story, thus we actually didn’t know what was going to happen with them. In addition to following the “Kate & Leo” storyline he presented the most amazingly terrifying crash-sequence that we could have even imagined, and watching that act of the movie, even when knowing that it was going to happen…WOW. Ben Affleck with Argo and Kathryn Bigelow with Zero Dark Thirty did it without making it about fictional characters and side stories, they simply created a damn exciting narrative that hooks us into seeing HOW we got to the amazing end results that we got to. Not what happens at the end that’s at stake, but HOW the heck did those Americans get saved by a fake film crew in Argo. And not what happens at the end of Zero Dark Thirty but HOW the heck did the CIA and this one woman in particular find and kill Osama? And the results are amazing – in both movies.

At times I felt like I was watching great episodes of The Wire, watching the slow but satisfying intricacies and politics that went into getting each piece of intel that sloooooowly led to catching Osama. At other times I felt like I was watching great episodes of Homeland, watching the tense interrogations of terrorists and action sequences in dangerous parts of the Middle East.
Never did it once suffer from the usual manipulations of overt manipulated feelings and cheesiness like most Spielberg movies (as well as my recently reviewed The Impossible) have, and I say that while acknowledging that I am capable of loving those movies in spite of that. I certainly appreciate when a movie is raw and doesn’t hit you over the head with moments where the main character says a cheesy important line while the music swells and everyone in the theater is forced to cry, it’s a useful but cheap trick, and this movie never stooped to that level.

The acting was always top notch. Jessica Chastain was damn solid and believable, in a very straight-forward role of a woman obsessed with her mission in life. In some ways she was Javert obsessed with catching Jean Valjean, and she was a heck of a lot better cast than Russell Crowe was playing Javert in Les Miserables. I also really liked Jason Clarke, and forgot for most of the movie that he, Mark Strong and Jennifer Ehle were all faking American accents but did them so well that I didn’t have to think twice about it!

The movie was quite long, and although I wouldn’t say the time flew by, it went by very satisfyingly. It didn’t have the entertaining comic cocky energy of Jeremy Renner from The Hurt Locker and was a more straight-forwardly serious movie, but I was always fascinated as to how the next piece of the puzzle would come through; and when the actual raid on Osama happens at the end, boy are you excited for every second of it!

It’s a close call, but the movie was slightly better than Kathryn Bigelow’s last great film, The Hurt Locker, due to it being based on a true story that keeps us captivated to see how they got from A to Z. It was worse than…Saving Private Ryan, a movie I still consider the greatest war movie ever made (due mostly to its opening 30 minutes).

Quality Rating: A+

Boaz Rating: A+ (I realize many people expect these ratings to be different more often, but as long as I keep seeing Oscar movies that I truly love AND think deserve to be loved, it’ll be on the same page. Soon enough I’ll be seeing movies that I like far more than they deserve, and you’ll see as much in my resulting scores!)