Reviews for “War for the Planet of the Apes” and “The Big Sick”

War for the Planet of the Apes

The band of intelligent apes led by Caesar (Andy Serkis) are being hunted by a persistent group of soldiers led the Colonel (Woody Harrelson). A raid on their compound leads to the deaths of Caesar’s wife and oldest son. Caesar sends the tribe on a journey over the mountains to find a new home far away from the humans; but Caesar intends on tracking down the Colonel and killing him in revenge. Despite telling them to go with the others, Maurice, Luca and Rocket (Karin Konoval, Michael Adamthwaite and Terry Notary) accompany him. Checking out a group of buildings looking for the Colonel’s base, the four apes come across a man that tries to kill them but Caesar kills him instead. Inside one of the buildings they find a young mute girl (Amiah Miller). Maurice refuses to leave her to die so she joins them. The apes find the Colonel’s base and Caesar discovers all of the apes have been captured. Caesar is captured as well by a gorilla that once followed Koba (Toby Kebbell) in his rebellion against Caesar. Several of Koba’s loyal apes are working with the Colonel’s troops. Called “donkeys” the turncoat apes serve as pack mules, carrying heavy weapons and acting as guards and overseers of the captured apes being forced to build a wall for the Colonel. The Colonel is preparing to defend against an attack but is it an attack by apes or other humans?

“War for the Planet of the Apes” continues the impressive visuals of the previous two films in the series. If anything it improves on those visuals and is a sure contender for the special effects Oscar next year; but it also might be nominated for Best Picture as this third entry in the series is possibly the best, serving up a gut-wrenching story of loss, betrayal and longing for a safe place to call home.

While there is debate about whether Andy Serkis performance as Caesar is more human or computer, I’m not sure it matters as Caesar is perhaps one of the most complex and well developed characters in any Hollywood blockbuster and the core of that performance is purely human. Serkis, best known as the king of motion-capture characters, delivers an amazing performance as the product of a genetic experiment that becomes the leader of his kind. It is clear the toll his being the leader has taken on Caesar. Serkis’ portrays the character as if he always has a heavy load on his back. His gait is ponderous and appears difficult. The CGI that makes up Caesar’s face has more grey hair and the creases look deeper. His eyes are dark and troubled. Even when times are good for the group survival in the wilderness is hard and having to constantly be on guard has obviously worn on him. The combination of Serkis’ physical performance and the wizardry of the computer effects artists makes Caesar the epitome of the saying “heavy is the head that wears the crown.”

While the main characters are monkeys and apes the story is so human I at times no longer saw the fur and the simian features but saw only relatable people. Serkis and the other actors portraying apes are aided by a story that could have easily been transplanted into a historical setting with which we are more familiar. Instead of apes it could have been Native Americans forced off their lands by white settlers or Jews in Europe during WWII or escaped slaves on the run in the South during the 1800’s or refugees from the war in Syria. It is a story that sadly has several parallels in world history and modern times and one that needs to be told again and again in an effort to keep it from recurring. I’m not so naïve as to think this movie or any other bit of pop culture will eventually teach us to stop treating those that are different as the enemy but it can’t hurt to try.

Woody Harrelson is great as the obsessed Colonel. He plays the part with a quiet cruelty that’s always just below the surface. While he could probably get better results by practicing a tiny amount of decency with his captive apes it isn’t within him due to his history. I won’t explain why he has such a burning hatred of the apes since that is a major spoiler but it infuses every decision the character makes and turns the Colonel into something more than a guy with a gun that doesn’t like smart monkeys. Harrelson oozes contempt for Caesar and his kind making the Colonel a villain that audiences will love to hate.

Amiah Miller’s mute child is the only human in the movie that is sympathetic and likable. Miller conveys a great deal of emotion and meaning in her silent performance. Her fear is palpable on her first meeting with the apes; but her curiosity, and Maurice’s friendly overtures, overrides any anxiety she has. Miller’s character is the audience’s only connection to humanity that is positive in the film. If her performance was too cute or too grown-up it wouldn’t resonate with the audience the way it should. Miller is a very talented young actress that does a great deal with a part that has no words.

“War for the Planet of the Apes” is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence, action, some disturbing images and thematic elements. There are several battle scenes with explosions and bodies being thrown in the air. There are also shootings at close range that are more like executions. Arrows are also used as weapons and we see several people/apes hit. There are also scenes of apes tied to crosses as punishment/torture. One ape is shown strangled to death while another dies slowly after being stabbed by a bayonet. There is also discussion of the murder of the adult child of one character that is very intense.

The dark future portrayed in the “Planet of the Apes” series, from the out of control virus that decimates humanity to the loss of humanity amongst the survivors, is particularly scary as it is entirely plausible. The Black Death in the 14th century wiped out 30 to 60 percent of the population of Europe. A flu epidemic in 1918 killed more people than World War I. The highly mobile nature of the modern world makes the barriers of oceans no longer an effective way to stop the spread of highly infectious diseases. Each year there seems to be a new strain of flu, whether avian, swine or some other variety that is suggested might be the next great killer. With the over-prescribing of antibiotics creating resistant infections, it may only be a matter of time before we are faced with a similar predicament as the characters in the “Apes” trilogy. Perhaps if we should create a breed of super-intelligent apes we might treat them significantly better than the humans in the films so that we can work and live together and survive into a meaningful future. Let’s hope so.

“War for the Planet of the Apes” gets five stars.

The Big Sick

Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) is a struggling standup comedian in Chicago who also is an Uber driver to make ends meet. At the comedy club one evening he meets Emily (Zoe Kazan) and the pair strikes up an instant attraction. Despite Emily’s protests that she is not looking for a relationship, she and Kumail continue to date for some time. Kumail’s family emigrated from Pakistan when he was 14. They believe in the old ways including arranged marriages. Frequently when Kumail is having dinner at his parents’ house, an eligible Pakistani woman about his age drops by with a photograph for his growing collection ofpotential wives. Kumail isn’t interested in finding a wife that way but fears being disowned if he tells his father Azmat (Anupam Kher) and mother Sharmeen (Zenobia Shroff) about his feelings and that he is dating a non-Pakistani woman. When Emily is over at Kumail’s apartment one night she finds the cigar box filled with the photos of potential wives. She becomes angry realizes there is probably no future with Kumail and storms out telling him to not call her again. A few days later, Kumail gets a call from one of Emily’s friends that she is in the hospital with flu-like symptoms. He goes there to be with her but she is not happy to see him. Her condition worsens and the doctors believe she needs to be put in a medically induced coma to deal with her infection. Kumail calls Emily’s parents in North Carolina and tells them about the situation. Terry and Beth (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) arrive and, having been kept up to date about the relationship from Emily, aren’t overly friendly to Kumail. He continues to stay at the hospital and visit with Emily while also spending more time with her parents. Soon the three bond over their shared love and concern for Emily as Kumail realizes he may have made a mistake by not standing up to his parents and allowing that to end his relationship with her. With her illness continuing to baffle her doctors he may never get the chance to make things right.

“The Big Sick” is based on the true story of the relationship between Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon. The pair wrote the movie and, with the help of Judd Apatow, acted as producers as well. Not many first timers would be able to wield that kind of power but with friends like Apatow and a budget that was likely $5-million or less, Nanjiani and Gordon were given the reigns on a story that only they could really tell. Amazon Studios spent $12-million on the rights at the Sundance Film Festival in what has been described at a huge deal and critics have been heaping praise on it ever since. Does it deserve all the love?

The short answer is “yes!” “The Big Sick” is something rare and special: It’s a romantic comedy that isn’t built on the stupidity or gullibility of one of the romantic pair in the story. It is a film about flawed but interesting people involved with each other but with outside pressures of family, custom and religion forcing them apart. It is also about fear, doubt, regret and redemption. It is a film about life told in a smart, honest and funny way. Like I said, it is rare and special.

The various story threads of “The Big Sick” could have become a tangled mess in less capable hands but director Michael Showalter, who was responsible for one of my favorite films from 2015, “Hello, My Name is Doris,” is able to juggle the romantic, his family, the illness, her family and the comedy club relationships giving each one just enough time and attention. It’s a masterful job of giving each aspect enough space to live but not overwhelm the rest of the story. Naturally, the important threads involve Kumail and Emily’s relationship and his reaction to her illness. That each other part of the story could be so effortlessly interwoven into the narrative is quite a feat.

Kumail Nanjiani carries “The Big Sick” with a natural charm and ease that makes you think you’re just eavesdropping on someone else’s life, not watching a movie. Nanjiani is effortlessly funny when needed like a scene where he’s having lunch with Emily’s parents in the hospital and makes a 9/11 joke that tore up the audience with which I was watching the film. Nanjiani also handles the more awkward scenes with an honesty and pain that he seems to draw from experience. A scene where he loses his mind with a fast food drive-thru worker is both funny and cringe-inducing as he comes to the realization he’s acting like a crazy person. Watching Nanjiani on “Silicon Valley” doesn’t give you the full idea of what a good actor he is. “The Big Sick” does.

Zoe Kazan is also great in the role of Emily. While she’s gone for a big chunk of the middle she makes quite an impression in the first and last third of the film. Kazan gives Emily a spunkiness and energy that is infectious. A scene where she’s embarrassed to go to the bathroom at Kumail’s apartment because he doesn’t have air freshener or matches has an exuberance that makes it impossible to take your eyes off of her. Kazan also is able to go from calm to confused to angry in a few seconds very believably when she discovers the pictures of women in a cigar box. Kazan’s performance is a nice compliment to Nanjiani’s.

Both Holly Hunter and Ray Romano steal the movie out from under Nanjiani on a couple of occasions. Hunter especially is great as the pitbull mother looking to protect her daughter at every turn. Romano and Nanjiani have a couple of nice scenes together as they try to deal with the uncomfortable realities of the situation. None of the supporting performances disappoint in “The Big Sick.”

“The Big Sick” is rated R for language including some sexual references. The sexual references are fleeting and, to be honest, I don’t remember any. Foul language is common throughout.

I have listened to Nanjiani’s and Gordon’s podcast “The Indoor Kids” on the Nerdist network. While they no longer make new episodes, I would look forward to hearing about the new video game they were playing or whatever they chose to talk about. I also listened to Nanjiani’s “The X-Files Files” about his favorite TV show which also plays a small part in the movie. Having listened to the pair talk on their own podcasts and others, I must admit being strangely proud of them for getting the movie of their story made. That’s not to say I’m giving them a pass. If the movie had sucked I would have said so; but I’m glad it doesn’t. “The Big Sick” is a great date movie for a couple that is just starting out or a long term relationship that been through some stuff. For the newbies it shows that life isn’t always going to be roses and rainbows. For the veterans it is a reminder that what you might take for granted could all be taken away in an instant. Along with the lesson you get some laughs as well.

“The Big Sick” gets five stars.

This week I’ll be reviewing “Dunkirk” for the WIMZ website.

On this webpage I’ll be seeing one of the following:

Girls Trip—

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Review of “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

Following the near fatal attack by Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is shaken that President Snow (Donald Sutherland) has somehow hijacked her friend and lover from the 74th Hunger Games and turned him into an assassin with her as his only target. Katniss’ concern for Peeta complicates her relationship with Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth). Leader of the resistance Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) wants to use the Mockingjay as a propaganda tool to encourage others to join their cause and keep Katniss off the front lines but her anger at Snow for what was done to Peeta makes Katniss find a way to be a part of the assault force that is moving through the Capital. Their journey through the deserted street is complicated by a series of booby traps set up by the game designers.

I wasn’t a fan of the first “Hunger Games” movie. The whole concept of the poor and oppressed fighting to the death for the entertainment of the rich and powerful left a bad taste in my mouth and a less than favorable opinion of the series in general. Of course, one needs only a tiny bit of historical knowledge to see the parallels to ancient Rome and the gladiators of the coliseum with the “Hunger Games” series of novels and movies. Some could argue the same thing happens today with politicians pitting their constituents against the supports of the rival party. The whole thing is a very dark and depressing look at what can happen when power and revenge run amuck. The second film in the series won me back as the oppressed begin to fight back and the third film sets up what is the final push to the Capital and the fourth movie pays off everything that has come before with a few surprises thrown in. Does it end the franchise in grand style or do the characters and story limp to the finish line?

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” is a mixed bag with a tone as dark and depressing as the first film. Characters die, Katniss starts injured and gets more injured along the way, things become bleak then bleaker and lovers are tested. What few moments of happiness are shown are quickly ground into the dirt. It makes one question which would be worse: Losing the war or winning it?

Jennifer Lawrence continues her great work as Katniss. The character’s spirit, determination and bravery are tested by the trials forced upon her by the machinations of both President Snow and Alma Coin. Lawrence is able to breathe some life into a sad character in a dour situation. While the entire situation stretches credibility, Lawrence is able to keep the character grounded and believable. Her work as Katniss Everdeen will likely not win her any major acting awards but it is something of which she can be proud.

The rest of the cast is largely window dressing as nobody is on screen for any significant amount of time; however a couple of performances do deserve some praise. Liam Hemsworth gives a strong performance as Gale. His heartbreak at Katniss’ interest in Peeta’s recovery from brainwashing is etched onto his face. One of his scenes late in the movie (no spoilers) is brief but devastating. Josh Hutcherson is allowed to stretch and be more than “the other guy.” The pain and confusion caused by the mind games played by Snow on him leads to some surprises along the way. Hutcherson has been a part of the films since he was in his late teens. His growth as an actor is clear and this might be considered something of a graduation.

While I enjoyed the film and the performances there were a few things that troubled me. First, the film feels all of its 136 minute running time. With all the effort to give attention to the emotional parts of the story along with the action, there are times when the film seems to come to a complete halt. All narrative momentum is sacrificed so the audience can experience the feels. It seemed forced and an effort to play to the fans of the books instead of the fans of the movies.

It’s time once again for “Thinking about the Details Too Much.” There have been some nagging questions about the logistics of how the world of “The Hunger Games” works that really came to the forefront in this film. First, where do the rebels get all the fuel they need to fly their planes and drive their trucks? I know there was a cache of weapons and equipment they captured earlier but fuel is something that is very difficult to produce in a way that isn’t vulnerable to attack. How they get their food is also something that confuses me. With the disruptions caused by the rebellion, it seems like no one in Panem would be working to make food that might fall in the hands of either side. Perhaps there are stores of rations saved up for emergencies but that wouldn’t last very long in an ongoing war and would also be a target for attack. And that concludes “Thinking about the Details Too Much.” Thanks for listening.

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for some thematic material. There are numerous battles between armed groups. We see one person killed by a landmine. Another couple is killed in various ways by booby traps. There is another death caused by poison and a character is shown coughing up blood. Katniss kills a couple of people with arrows. Various explosions cause more death. There is no gore. We see some of the injuries sustained by Katniss mostly consisting of bruises on her neck and her ribs. I’m not sure what the reference to “thematic material” is other than a character is disfigured after disappointing a person in power.

Some might consider “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” to be more of the same: Characters pitted against a powerful government with only their determination and imagination to help them. That is largely correct; however, this final entry into “The Hunger Games” film series is consistent in tone and style and manages to wrap up the story in an exciting, entertaining but still dark way. While it is probably about 15 minutes too long, fans of the books and the movies should find this a satisfying conclusion.

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” gets four stars out of five.

The Thanksgiving holiday means a midweek release of three new films. I’ll see and review at least one of them.

Creed—

The Good Dinosaur—

Victor Frankenstein—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.