War for the Planet of the Apes: Movie Man Jackson

The night is darkest just after the dawn. Years after Koba’s betrayal, the ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his nation of apes remain taking residence in the woods. Trying to live peacefully away from conflict, conflict finds them by way of The Colonel (Woody Harrelson). His assault on the apes’ home leaves massive casualties.

Now out for revenge, Caesar, along with Maurice (Karin Konoval), Luca (Michael Adamthwaite), found hermit Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), and a young mute female straggler (Amiah Miller) embark on a journey to locate and eliminate The Colonel. The woods are no longer safe for apes, but a new location has been scouted and deemed livable. But, the war between apes and humans must reach a conclusion before the next chapter in ape evolution can begin.

Who knew that in 2011 the dawn of the next great trilogy was beginning with Rise of the Planet of the Apes? Considered a middling IP at best after Tim Burton’s 2001 spin on things, Rise and Rupert Wyatt invigorated new life into the franchise. But, director Matt Reeves pushed it in places it’s never been before, both visually and thematically, with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. He officially ties the bow neatly on this trilogy with War for the Planet of the Apes.

Of course, it should go without saying at this point that the CGI, motion capture, rendering, and whatever else I’m probably forgetting on the technical side of this feature is absolutely impeccable. I’m saying it again because as spectacular Dawn was on that front, War takes it up multiple levels, proving that in three years technology evolves at an exponential rate. There are shots—extreme close up shots—of Caesar and his mains-in-command that are mind-blowing, and full of weight.

Fear and loss play a huge part in this movie; the consternation is seen on many of the lead characters’ faces. The character arc of Caesar goes very deep, and Serkis does it all as the ape leader. His delivery of dialogue, as well as sign language and facials, is moving. Not to be shortchanged either are newcomer Steve Zahn, Michael Adamthwaite, and Karen Konoval. Woody Harrelson stands as the best human character the reboot has seen, his style being perfect for the military leader. Some of the best moments are devoid of any dialogue or even subtitles. Reeves opts to tell some of War for Apes completely visually. The sounds of composer Michael Giacchino go a long way in making this endeavor a success.

In a cinema world in which seemingly every big studio is on the hunt for the next universe starter or continuation, War for the Planet of the Apes has no real aspirations to do so. One would be doing themselves a massive disservice by not watching the predecessors, but, it is cool that Reeves commences War with two-sentence recaps for newbies that summarizes everything newcomers need to know before seguieng into an impressive opening action sequence. War for Apes is a mostly cold and bleak affair, befitting of a predominately cool grey and blue color palette. That doesn’t make it any less of a technical masterpiece, though.

War for Apes, like Dawn before it, uses its primates to hold a mirror to our own society. However, where Dawn was subtler in its approach, War goes a little more overt and obvious, lessening the impact and the thought-provoking themes ever so slightly. The war aspect of the title is present, but the war itself seems to be more metaphorical than literal. Do not go in expecting a prolonged blitzkrieg; War for Apes is emotional-drama first, action-blockbuster second.

The last stand for Caesar and company caps off an amazing epic that will rank up there with the best trilogies in film history. This war closes the chapter between humans and apes, but won’t quickly be forgotten.

A-

Photo credits go to slashfilm.com, aceshowbiz.com, and digitalspy.com.

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Joy Ride: Movie Man Jackson

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Will never hear the words “Candy Cane” without thinking of this movie ever again. Lewis (Paul Walker) is wrapping up his freshman year of college, and is prepping to come home. Originally flying, Lewis calls an audible and instead buys a car to drive home. His reason? His crush, Venna (Leelee Sobieski) needs a ride home from college in Colorado.

His best-laid plans go out the window when he feels obligated to pick up his troubled older brother Fuller (Steve Zahn) out of jail. On the way to picking up Venna, the brothers decide to have a little fun during their Joy Ride with a truck driver known only as “Rusty Nail” over a CB radio. But when the prank goes much too far, Lewis and Fuller will be lucky to make it to Colorado, much less home.

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Though it is awesome if they are, thrillers don’t have to be elaborate nor stocked to the brim with twist after twist. They just have to thrill and provide tension. 2001’s Joy Ride is very simplistic in its execution. Want a fun point A to point B horror/thriller? This is it.

Co-writers J.J. Abrams and Clay Tarver along with director John Dahl (Rounders) go in with the less-is-more idea with Joy Ride. It is fascinating how much mileage they get out of a simple premise of prank calling—err—cb “radio-ing”—going wrong. There are no hidden meanings or truly meaty characters. The great Roger Ebert said it best, this is essentially Halloween (and of course being influenced by Steven Spielberg’s Duel from 1971). What you see is what you get…which is often white knuckle thrills that build and build to an impressive climax. If there were but one notable issue, it would be the actual ending. While not completely ending abruptly, it would have been nice to actually see some aftermath of the ordeal. Additionally, some of the actual end events fall a little into what I like to call “God Mode” territory, where one character is everywhere and can do anything and knows everything with little explanation as to how.

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Joy Ride feels a lot like film noir, just without the notable characters, detailed plot, or voiceover narration. John Dahl bathes a lot of the film’s biggest scenes in red and/or a torrential downpour, giving the movie a consistent feeling of danger and dread. It’s well paced also, giving enough quiet moments for said danger and dread to be of impact. Marco Beltrami’s score certainly isn’t subtle, but it does enhance some of the more harrowing parts.

The audience never gets a good glimpse of Rusty Nail, psycho trucker extraordinaire, but we certainly hear a lot of him, which may be just as frightening, if not more so. Rusty Nail is voiced by none other than Buffalo Bill himself, Ted Levine. His gravelly-based voice is the stuff of nightmares. The people on the receiving end of his threats are Paul Walker and Steve Zahn.

The duo are believable enough as caring yet dysfunctional brothers. Like some of his other early movies, Walker isn’t asked to do a ton, but he gets by with charisma and likability. Steve Zahn, for my money, has always been one of the more versatile actors in Hollywood. Here, he’s a little comedic as the jerkish older sibling, but still possessing the chops to sell terror adequately. Leelee Sobieski is quite the pretty face, but awfully forgettable as a thespian.

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But one shouldn’t view Joy Ride expecting great performances, but rather, to get some surprisingly well executed thrills through a simple premise. I enjoyed this ride much more than expected.

B

Photo credits go to imcdb.org, impawards.com, ign.com, and hotflick.net.

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