October 2017 movies

Due to a truckload of work and other commitments I wasn’t able to upload the reviews I wrote for the October issue of EL Magazine when the issue was released, so here they are, late by more than a month.

Alien: Covenant
Story-wise, the latest installment in the Alien saga is superior to its predecessor, the thematically ambitious but frustratingly open-ended Prometheus. That said, it will be difficult for the viewer to appreciate Covenant without remembering Prometheus. A colonizing spaceship is damaged by a solar flare and some of the surviving crew decide to check out a signal coming from a nearby planet. There they discover what’s left of the Prometheus, namely its android assistant David (Michael Fassbender), who we soon learn has been experimenting with the organism that played such a central role in the previous film. No prizes for guessing what the results of those experiments are, but suffice to say that David’s own motives are hidden for most of the film, during which he spars with an updated model of himself, Walter (Fassbender, too), whose programming makes him more beholden to humans than David is. Once the horror set pieces kick in, however, the movie becomes predictable and less compelling. These are the aliens you know and love, and by now their m.o. is like second nature to most moviegoers. (photo: Twentieth Century Fox Film)

Annabelle: Creation
I am only marginally familiar with the successful Conjuring series, so this origin movie’s relevance escapes me, which may be just as well. Set in a California backwater in the years after World War II, the movie centers on the family of dollmaker Sam Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia), whose daughter is killed in an accident. Mullins’ wife, Esther (Miranda Otto), mourns so obsessively that the girl’s spirit returns through the medium of one of her dolls. Years later, with his wife a shut-in, Mullins offers up his home as a halfway house for a group of female orphans, who naturally discover the doll and set in motion its evil designs. Director David Sandberg isn’t overly concerned that the story has no depth or mystery. The doll trope is enough to set his imagination on fire, and the house and its environs become an unsettling maze of physical and psychological hazards. Sandberg doesn’t follow the lead of his mentor James Wan, the king of jump scares. Terror is generated through gradual suspense and visual misdirection, in particular a clever use of black spaces. It scares you without annoying you. (photo: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Ratpac-Dune Entertainment LLC)

Atomic Blonde
Since it’s adapted from a graphic novel, the action in this espionage thriller is chunky but precise, and director David Leitch is very careful about showing how each punch thrown, bullet fired, and knife thrusted gets to where it’s going and what it does if and when it reaches its destination. Leitch honed these techniques working on the ultra-violent John Wick, but here he gets to work with a female protagonist, an MI6 spy named Lorraine Broughton, who is every bit the cool, resourceful fighter that the professional hit man Wick was. In fact, seeing Broughton, played with suitably stylish elan by Charlize Theron, receive some very severe beatings at the hands of tough guys can be both disturbing and exhilirating. Naturally, she gets the better of them, but it’s nice to see equal opportunity violence. But don’t believe the critics who say Broughton is simply James Bond in high heels and a bleached bob. The story takes place on the eve of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Broughton’s assignment is to retrieve a list of spies before it falls into the hands of the KGB. We know that Broughton survived the mission because of the framing device: a debriefing with her immediate superior (Toby Jones) and a drop-in from the CIA (John Goodman), who are very displeased with what she did or did not accomplish in Germany. As it turned out, Broughton had more to worry about from the Berlin station chief, David Percival (James McAvoy), than she did from the Russians. The audience automatically suspects that Percival, with his cynical attitude and solipsistic professionalism, is a mole or, at least, taking money from people he shouldn’t be taking money from. As it turns out, the precious list is not written down but rather etched into the memory of a defecting Stasi officer (Eddie Marsdan), so it becomes Broughton’s job to make sure he and his family get out of Berlin alive. This storyline works well as long as it lasts, but for some reason the script keeps making pointless side trips, mainly for the sake of more action set pieces, which are so much better than the storytelling that you don’t mind, but once things get back on the spy track they become frustratingly opaque. And when in doubt for what to do as a transition, just go back to London and the debriefing, where everyone has their panties in a twist except for Broughton, who smokes and looks cool. Theron is perfect for the part, but the part is pretty rote: All she has to do is set her jaw and look at everything intently. That is, when she isn’t kicking some guy’s jaw into next week. She makes the movie, for what that’s worth. (photo: Coldest City LLC)

Below Her Mouth
It’s difficult to figure out just what director April Mullen and screenwriter Stephanie Fabrizi intended with this soft-core romantic drama. Dallas (Erika Linder) is an aggressively sexual construction worker who picks up girls easily but can’t sustain long-term relationships. Jasmine (Natalie Krill) is a frilly fashion magazine editor with a fiancee. They hook up at a “girls party” and though Jasmine has never been with another woman, she succumbs to Dallas’s relentless come-ons and they end up in bed—as well as other items of furniture not normally associated with sexual activities. Naturally, Jasmine’s engagement falls apart pretty quickly, but the stakes were so slight to begin with that the breakup registers very low on the scale of dramatic interest. In fact, every ostensible dramatic scene is invariably followed by one of love-making that attempts to out-steam the previous one. If the point of the movie were technical—how best to light and block lesbian sex scenes—then I supposed Below Her Mouth could qualify as some sort of how-to manual. Otherwise, it doesn’t seem to have any purpose. (photo: Serendipity Point Films Inc.)

Blade Runner 2049
Even more depressive and surprisingly more austere than the legendary original, Denis Villeneuve’s long-awaited sequel to Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic lacks the same sense of mystery and surprise, and generally tries to make up for it with a complicated story that nevertheless rewards close concentration as well as a visual aesthetic that dials up what made its predecessor so remarkable. The most interesting thematic aspect of 2049 is the way it conflates the unknown quantities of the original—those niggling questions that no amount of repeated viewing could answer—with newer questions advanced by what passes for AI development in the years since Blade Runner was released. Replicants are still around, doing the jobs that humans don’t want to do, but the problems of the previous model have been alleviated, and the newer members of this manufactored android race are both more self-aware of their artificiality and less likely to develop resentments because of it. But that doesn’t mean they lack empathy, which is why the blade runner here, referred to only as K (Ryan Gosling), maintains a built-in curiosity that is piqued when he is dispatched to “retire” a rogue replicant of the old model, and discovers on the replicant’s farm a box containing the remains of a body of an even older replicant model that died during childbirth, which is very odd because replicants cannot reproduce. K’s superior (Robin Wright) immediately orders him to destroy the evidence and find the child. K’s investigation leads him to the corporation that makes replicants and the intelligence that the mother was Rachael, the experimental replicant everyone remembers from the first Blade Runner, further leading K to the notion that the father was Deckard, the blade runner in the earlier movie. Intertwined with all this private eye business is some pretty well thought-out philosophical conundrums occasioned by K’s own romance with an AI program named Joi (Ana de Armas), who, despite her own manufactured provenance, reminds K that all his memories of childhood are implanted, since he has only existed for a few years. Still, the idea that replicants can be “born” of woman drives him to the obsessive thought that he could be the child he’s hunting down, especially when a “memory designer” (Carla Juri) checks his memories of growing up in an orphanage and tells him they’re genuine. This knowledge messes with his own programming, thus making him useless as a blade runner, and so he turns rogue himself and seeks out Deckard, who he believes is still alive, for answers. Villeneuve never loses sight of what makes the story compelling and callibrates the action accordingly. The movie is involving in ways that most contemporary sci-fi is not, and hearkens back to the old idea of speculative fiction, when writers like Asimov and Clarke conceived of integrated worlds to explain the scientific aspects of their vision. In a way, Blade Runner 2049 is a betrayal of the spirit of the story’s originator, Philip K. Dick, who was less interested in filling out all the details than he was in being devliishly clever. Villeneuve’s movie attempts to bring the humanity that some people felt was missing from the original, with its focus on action and atmosphere, and in the end it mostly succeeds. You’re not likely to forget it, but, unlike the first movie, you may not feel you need to see it again.

The Bloom of Yesterday
Two youngish people, a German man named Totila (Lars Eidinger) and a French woman named Zazie (Adele Haenel), meet over shared interests and after heated arguments fall in love. It’s the classic formula for a romantic comedy, except with one difference. The shared interest is the Holocaust. Totila works for a foundation doing research into the concentration camps where millions of people, mostly Jewish, were exterminated by the Nazis during World War II. Zazie, who is Jewish herself, is also a researcher who used to work with the late head of a foundation, and when she comes to Germany to help out with the foundation’s conference she is stuck with Totila, who is going through a bad patch and possesses a combative personality (he may be bipolar). In the first scene, he and a colleague have a disagreement and Totila beats him so badly he has to be hospitalized. Director Chris Kraus’s humor is dark and transgressive and it probably helps to be German to appreciate it, but given the situation in the world today the movie will be provocative wherever it opens. In German, English and French. (photo: Dor Film-West Produktionsgesellschaft mbH/Four Minutes Filmproduktion GmbH/Dor Filmproduktion GmbH)

Colossal
Nacho Vigalondo’s romantic dramedy follows the kind of skewed storytelling you find in a Charlie Kaufman script. Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is an alcoholic writer living in New York City whose boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens), kicks her out of their apartment because she just can’t get her shit together. She returns to her nameless hometown and inevitably runs into Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), a guy she’s known since elementary school. It becomes obvious early on that Oscar feels trapped in this town and has always nursed a crush on Gloria, and at first the movie plays like a romantic comedy in that you assume they will end up in each other’s arms after the requisite give-and-take. He offers her a job at his bar in order to keep her close, but the more immediate effect is that Gloria’s irresponsibility, fueled by late night drinking sessions with Oscar and two of his most loyal customers, Gabe (Tim Blake Nelson) and Joel (Austin Stowell), is exacerbated. So far so conventional, but in tandem with this story is one happening on the other side of the planet. Seoul is being terrorized by a giant monster, and eventually Gloria realizes that the creature is mimicking her actions whenever she sets foot in a small playground near her old elementary school. In essence, Gloria’s self-destructive tendencies are mirrored in the actions of this kaiju, which are destructive in a more powerful way, in that they lead to the deaths of hundreds of innocent people. Oscar finds out about this connection and when his own self-destructive tendencies are stimulated, the movie goes dark and Vigalondo’s purposes are laid bare. But it’s the human interactions that make the movie interesting, not the monster-id connections, though Vigalondo carries them out with admirable skill. Hathaway and Sudeikis generate genuine discomfort in their sputtering relationship, and the resulting violence has not only a kick, but offers a distressful insight into addictive behavior and how it destroys everyone who comes into contact with it. The main problem with Colossal is that Vigalondo’s conceit eventually gets the better of the movie, since the director can’t help but try to make sense out of it. Charlie Kaufman never thought it was necessary to explain his supernatural contexts, which is why he’s still so great. (photo: Colossal Movie Productions LLC)

Dunkirk
Christopher Nolan applies his unique cinematic skills to a true story for once, and his meticulousness deflates the desperation that informed one of the less salubrious adventures in British military history, the evacuation of troops from France after the Nazi invasion. Many think Nolan has taken a humiliating defeat and made it heroic, which isn’t fair. However, by focusing so closely on four anecdotes, he misses their essence, even if the whole movie has a gigantic feel to it. While violent and loud, the film is relatively bloodless, because Nolan wants you to see the emotions openly. Since he’s also obsessed with activity, the viewer often gets lost in the editing. Cutting between a group of young recruits hiding from German bombers on the beach, a flustered office (Kenneth Branagh) trying to launch overloaded ships, a civilian yachtsman (Mark Rylance) racing across the channel to do his part, and a lone airman (Tom Hardy) trying not to get shot down, Nolan doesn’t seem to have enough time for each, so he subsumes them in the greater spectacle, which is nothing more than thrilling. (photo: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)

The Fake
As he proved with his caustic debut, The King of Pigs, animator Yeon Sang-ho is the master of misanthropy in a national cinema that specializes in misanthropy. If The Fake doesn’t hit as hard it’s probably because the narrative is more conventional. A decrepit rural Korean town has been bought out for a dam project and a con man moves in to cheat the gullible citizens of their payoffs with the help of a Christian minister he’s blackmailing. The only person who sees through the holy water shill is Min-chul, the epitome of the boorish Korean loser, a man who steals his daughter’s hard-earned tuition money to gamble and drink. That Min-chul is a terrible person does not preclude him from understanding the truth. He’s the kind of man who solves every problem with violence, and pays the price, even when moral rectitude happens to be on his side. The animation is crude, and while the story might have been more effective with real actors, the world Yeon creates is vivid in its own unique way. In Korean. (photo: Next Entertainment World Inc. & Studio Dadashow)

The Fall of Icarus
Haruhiko Daishima’s promised sequel to The Wages of Resistance, his documentary about the struggle to stop the construction of Narita International Airport, focuses on the student leftists who joined with local farmers to protect their land from the central government, and how they ultimately failed both the farmers and their own ideals. It’s a more bitter portrait of the decades-long action and perhaps because Daishima’s co-director, Koshiro Otsu, died shortly after Wages was released, the new movie misses the elder filmmaker’s more disciplined sense of history. Otsu, after all, had been covering the conflict since it started. What we get here is the surviving leftists’ recollections of what went down, and they are disarmingly frank about the infighting and petty betrayals that doomed their quest. As one puts it, the farmers just wanted to keep their land, while we wanted to change Japan. But in the end, the viewer comes away with the feeling that the power of the state is just too vast and implacable. People literally died for nothing. Slow-moving but essential viewing nonetheless. In Japanese. (photo: Sanrizuka no Ikarosu no seisaku no iinkai)

Get Out
Since this movie was released earlier in the year it has become the cultural focal point in the ongoing discussion of white privilege, though sticklers will probably point out that the movie’s satirical edge softens its polemical power. And while it seems petty to harp on the storyline’s mediocre plot elements and how they connect to the discussion, it’s difficult to think of another movie that makes such a stark denunciation of white privilege, and that includes most of Spike Lee’s ouevre with the exception of Do the Right Thing, whose white characters were not classic liberals in any sense. Here, the white people all voted for Obama, “and probably would have a third time,” as one character says. In a sense, that’s what makes them even more dangerous to black people. Writer-director Jordan Peele immediately closes in on our biases by setting up the same situation that undergirded the first borderline white privilege movie, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), an up-and-coming photographer, is going to meet the parents of his live-in girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams). He only learns shortly before they leave NYC for upstate that she hasn’t told them Chris is black. Allison assures him her rich white family will be fine with him, and they are–perhaps a little too fine for Chris’s tastes. Allison’s physician father, Dean (Bradley Whitford), seems to go out of his way to be solicitous toward his “heritage,” while her creepy brother, Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones), gets a little too personal and tries to persuade Chris to mock-wrestle him. However, it’s Allison’s mother, Missy (Catherine Keener), who unsettles him the most. A psychiatrist, she offers to hypnotize Chris in order to break him of his lingering cigarette habit, and during the late-night session he has a very disturbing vision. By now everyone knows that Get Out is a horror film, and the clues to terrors yet unseen are provided by the other black characters, the servants of the house and guests who attend a party the day after Chris and Allison arrive. They all have glassy stares and decidedly Caucasian diction, and most experienced moviegoers will see where the story is going, though they may not guess the particular horrors the white folks have in store for Chris. Given how skillfully Peele builds the tension through misdirection and our own understanding of how white privilege works in the real world, the payoff is a bit of a disappointment aesthetically speaking, but in terms of justice it’s damn near perfect. Obviously, Peele is mainly interested in a central idea, and his success should be measured by the gap in comfort between black viewers and white viewers. The larger the gap, the happier he is. (photo: Universal Studios)

Good Time
Josh and Benny Safdie’s throwback to the classic crime movies of the 70s is such a thrilling ride that the viewer may overlook that no one on screen is very believable. Robert Pattinson plays Connie, a dumb-as-dirt minor hood who pulls his developmentally disabled brother, Nick (Ben Safdie), out of his regular therapy session and then talks him into helping him pull a bank robbery that, naturally, goes south in no time. When Nick gets nabbed and thrown into Rikers, Connie decides to bail him out and then the two of them will go on the lam, but as he scrounges all over the outer boroughs for the money he digs himself deeper into a hole whose criminal-comic contours verge on the surreal. Though shot with an eye for realism with natural lighting and jittery handheld camera work, the script is patently ridiculous, and the only thing you have to keep you engaged is Connie’s dogged self-preservation, which, as portrayed by Pattinson with equal determination, becomes almost touching. Unconprehending of his own limitations, Connie comes up with cockamamie plans on the fly that he barrels through with the confidence of a Casanova, and when they don’t work out his frustration is Olympic and borderline tragic. In this regard, the Safdies’ episodic structure works, despite its almost random application. Connie’s odyssey takes him through nursing homes, hospitals, an amusement park, and involves the liberation of a deranged drug dealer from a mental hospital, the sale of a bottle of LSD, the kidnapping of a teenage Haitian girl and her grandmother, and lots of bizarre, often violent run-ins with innocent people just trying to do their jobs, such as security guards and nurses. Though Good Time has been liberally compared to Mean Streets, mainly because Martin Scorsese had something to do with the production and Pattinson’s incoherent goon resembles, at least thematically, Robert De Niro’s Johnny Boy, the Safdies’ movie is very much a post-millennial movie, as much set to Oneohtrix Point Never’s skittery, propulsive electronic score as vice versa. In comparison, Mean Streets is practically a Stanley Kubrick production. Undeniably gritty, Good Time nevertheless sinks into the quicksand of its own contrivances. It’s too calculatedly manic and therefore hip for its own good, and Pattinson does more to save its soul than De Niro (who, it must be pointed out, had equal help from Harvey Keitel) does for the Scorsese film. Pattinson dives so deep into the character you expect him to surface somewhere in China. (photo: Hercules Film Investments SARL)

Hidden Figures
There’s so much going on historically in Theodore Melfi’s movie about the early days of the American space program that it seems almost a waste that most of it is centered on the treatment of three African-American mathematicians. One intriguing sidelight is the idea that in the beginning NASA didn’t have digital computers, so they hired scores of “human computers” to check the calculations of the flight engineers. That’s where Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae), and Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) came in. Hired as technicians, they were nonetheless banished to the hinterlands of the NASA complex and treated like wage slaves, not just because they were black, but also because they were women. Eventually, each proved their value to the cause, though they wouldn’t be recognized properly for their services until much later. Melfi plays up the women’s intelligence and forbearance in the face of unwavering white privilege, which is satisfying on the whole for obvious reasons. He’s less successful with the women’s private lives, whose scenes feel undernourished and merely obligatory. (photo: Twentieth Century Fox)

Loving Vincent
This unusual biopic was initiated by Polish animator Dorota Kobiela, who has called it the “world’s first fully painted feature film.” The paintings she mimics are those of Vincent Van Gogh, the subject as well, though during the narrative the artist has already been dead a year and what passes as “the story” has been fictionalized to a certain extent. The script considers the particulars of his demise as if it were a police procedural, using witnesses to piece together the painter’s last days. The accepted theory is that he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, but apparently he lingered for days, and the film suggests he may have been shot by someone else and that he tried to cover up the fact. Some of the witnesses were the subjects of Van Gogh paintings, and Kobiela renders their figures with great fidelity to the master’s style. The film contains 65,000 frames, and reportedly every single one was not only hand-painted, but painted with oils in the familiarly psychedelic style we’ve come to associate with Van Gogh. Because Kobiela and her staff painted on film that had been shot with real actors, the verisimilitude necessarily gets in the way of much of this vision, and at times the obsession with form seems like a gimmick, an end in itself. The detective work is carried out by a young man named Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth), the son of the bearded postmaster (Chris O’Dowd) who was the subject of one of Van Gogh’s most famous portraits. Roulin, trying to solve the mystery of Van Gogh’s mental state at the time of his death, retraces his steps from Arles to Auvers-sur-Oise and interviews everyone who came in contact with him in his final weeks. Ostensibly, Roulin is meant to deliver a recently discovered letter to Vincent’s brother, Theo (thus the title, which was Van Gogh’s typical closing). During Roulin’s investigation he happens upon any number of tableaux that Van Gogh depicted, and Kobiela is practically anal in incorporating these famous images in the moving picture. Fortunately, with the help of her co-director and writer, Hugh Welchman, this incorporation never feels gratuitous, and while the plot is nothing extraordinary it serves the purpose well by presenting Van Gogh as less of a mentally ill genius than as a visionary who suddenly lost his way emotionally. In the end, the combination of visual expressiveness and an involving mystery that doesn’t insult anyone’s intelligence makes for one of the year’s more unusual cinematic experiences. It will certainly cause you to appreciate Van Gogh’s peculiar talents in a different light. (photo: Loving Vincent Sp. z.o.o/Loving Vincent Ltd.)

Miss Sloane
Jessica Chastain plays the title character, a Washington lobbyist famous for her ruthless tactics and, thus, popular with industry groups. In this world, lobbying is less about persuasion and more about preemptive maneuvering, or “foresight,” as Miss Sloane says repeatedly. In order to carry out her tasks successfully, she has little time for sleep or intimacy—sexual needs are satisfied by paid escorts—and consumes more pills than beverages or food. But despite her devious ploys she has principles, and when she refuses to help a gun industry client make firearm ownership more appealing to women, her boss (Sam Waterston) has a fit and she quits the firm, joining the other side in the gun battle. However, she hasn’t abandoned her methods. She just dedicates them to a difference cause. Director John Madden pumps up the intrigue so that the climactic ethics trial feels highly significant—until it ends in a laughably contrived twist that only proves how dishonest the screenwriter, Jonathan Perera, has been with the viewer’s expectations all along. Washington is always a disappointment. (photo: Eurocorp-France 2 Cinema)

Neruda
Pablo Larrain’s film is not a biopic of the Nobel Prize-winning Chliean poet Pablo Neruda, but rather a meditation on what he stood for. Though a communist who grew up in poverty, Neruda (Luis Gnecco) is also a sensualist in the classic sense—he loves the money and attention fame has brought him. When his party is outlawed by the president and he is ousted from his senatorial seat, he becomes a fugitive, all the while maintaining the trappings of luxury he’s grown accustomed to. From this point, the movie mainly takes the POV of his pursuer, the fatuous police detective Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael Garcia Bernal), who was real but is treated here as a figure of fantasy, a figment of Neruda’s imagination. Though it would still be years before Pinochet grabbed power, fascism is in the air, and its ridiculous qualities are represented by Pelunchonneau, whose paranoia is both comic and tragic. It means nothing that Neruda eventually wins their cat-and-mouse game because he is forced into exile. As a film, Neruda is almost too clever for its own good. As farce, it’s sublime. In Spanish. (photo: Fabula, FunnyBalloons, AZ Films, Setembro Cine, WilliesMovies, A.I.E. Santiago de Chile)

Sami Blood
The Sami are an indigenous people who live in the northern portion of Scandinavia incorporating parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and even Russia. Their culture is built around reindeer herding and they speak their own language, which is closer to Finnish than it is to other Scandinavian tongues. Elle-Marja (Lene Cecilia Sparrok), a fiercely intelligent girl, wants to move out of her community and into Swedish society, and when her teacher tells her that’s impossible, she runs away to Uppsala, to the upper middle class home of a young man she met at a dance near her school. Confronted with prejudice and condescension, she is still determined to be a Swede to the point where she cruelly rejects her family and her heritage. Set in a pre-PC era, the film clearly indicts Swedish society for treating Sami as specimens rather than humans, but director Amanda Kernell focuses on Elle-Marja’s shame. She is not permitted to join Swedish society because of her bloodline and thus must deny everything she is to gain entrance. The cost turns out to be devastating. In Swedish and Sami. (photo: Nordisk Film Production)

War for the Planet of the Apes
Now comprising two sets of distinct film series timed forty years apart, The Planet of the Apes has become one of the richest, most satisfying franchises in the history of Hollywood. The basic premise of an earth that has seen the evolutionary cycle upended would seem to be limited in terms of plot points, but the second franchise (the failed Tim Burton reboot is not counted) has been particularly involving in its exploration of man’s basic hubris in the face of nature. As outlined vividly in 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the primates who threaten human supremacy suffer from the same hubris, which their leader, Caesar (Andy Serkis), attempts to preempt. The director of that movie, Matt Reeves, completes this idea in The War of the Planet of the Apes, which confronts the decline of humans put forth in the original 1968 film and seems to be the result of a mutated virus that takes away the human ability for speech, rather than a nuclear holocaust. Woody Harrelson’s military commander is a man whose solution to homo sapiens’ decline is genocide. The war is, thus, a very real one, with tanks and guns and bombs and lines of defense, and working in this vein, Reeves creates not only a fitting chapter in this epic vision of the end of the world as we know it, but one of the most stirring action films of recent memory. Col. McCullough’s mission is to build a wall to keep out the virus and its carriers, not to mention the apes he loathes, but his mistake is to use apes as slaves to build it. This war, remember, was started by Koba in the previous film, and Koba was Caesar’s nemesis within the ape ranks, a creature who hated humans as much as the colonel hates apes. The outcome of the war turns not on superior firepower or greater strategic intelligence, but on physical attributes and instincts: the apes are better suited to survive the destruction that attends war. This was the subtext of the original franchise, though it wasn’t logically explained. Here it is, in a rousing and horrifying finale that makes perfect sense. But the ringer is still Caesar, one of the greatest movie heroes of all time, a character whose monumental suffering in the quest to do what’s right is unabashedly Christlike. The calls for Andy Serkis, who plays Caesar through the magic of CGI, to be honored with an Oscar are not as flip as they sound. Caesar is a complex, tortured being who expresses everything he feels in no uncertain terms. If War of the Planet of the Apes accomplishes anything, it is in the way it dissolves the viewer’s cognizance of special effects. There are no lines to cross, no disbelief to suspend. The movie tells its great story seamlessly. (photo: Twentieth Century Fox Film)

A Whale of a Tale
Taking the Oscar-award winning The Cove as its jumping off point, this documentary by Megumi Sasaki attempts to bring balance to the dolphin-hunting controversy surrounding the town of Taiji, which has depended on whaling for centuries. Though Sasaki is obviously sympathetic to Taichi’s residents, who came off badly in The Cove, she spends as much time with Rick Barry and the other foreign dolphin advocates and reaches a sort of compromise. Her main conduit for understanding is Jay Alabaster, an American journalist who, intrigued by the controversy, settled in Taiji and became part of the community. Thanks to Alabaster, the people of Taiji come across as human beings, though he and Sasaki are not going to sway the Sea Shepherd crowd to think they have a right to slaughter cetaceans. The movie is fascinating in its own right, and often quite funny, especially when you realize the two sides have become so used to each other that they’ve become close acquaintances, if not exactly friends. But Sasaki’s premise that the Taijians have reached compromise while the dolphin defenders haven’t seems simplistic. In English and Japanese. (photo: Whale of a Tale project team)

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