Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Review

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Last night my kid brother and me went to see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

“Hey Ben, I know you are moving back to Pennsylvania in two days.  Do you want to spend some meaningful time together?  Let’s go chew tobacco and see some fucking apes fight.”  I’m sure at this moment he thought it was the shittiest going away present ever, but hey, we had fun.

As far as popcorn movies go it was really good.  If you liked the first one you should like this one and vice versa.  It was more epic and battle oriented, but it was tied together with a solid story.  There is always a bit of ridiculousness when you see talking apes in a movie, and there were several parts where you could predict what was going to happen in the next scene, but overall it was done about as well as could be expected.  The special effects were phenomenal.  I hate when something looks like it was created with CGI and it takes you out of the moment.  Other than one or two shots in the beginning of the film, there wasn’t a moment when a visual kept me from being engrossed in the story.

Let’s not kid anyone and pretend that a movie that features apes riding horses is Shakespeare, but these movies feature a degree of intelligence that most summer blockbusters lack.  This movie, behind it’s summer entertainment factor, is a tragedy where we slowly see peace break down between groups over misunderstandings and rival factions.  In each group there are those that seek peace and those that seek power.  Much as in the real world, those that seek power rig the game so that the peace is lost.  Yeah, yeah, I know, as I said there are apes talking and riding horses.  But most of the time when a summer movie tries to be smart it only looks dumber.  This was one of the few examples where, and don’t get me wrong this movie is entertainment first, where a small degree of intelligence actually manages to be a part of the proceedings.

As a final note, I had a friend with a child ask me if this movie would be OK to take him to.  I think this movie’s PG-13 rating is earned, as it might be too intense for anyone younger then that.  Also, I’m usually not a fan of anything rated PG-13, as it usually means that they take anything adult or interesting out of a film to appeal to the widest possible audience, without a film having the magical whimsey of a kid’s movie.  However, I didn’t feel that this movie lost anything by being PG-13.  In fact, despite the fact that there was no graphic gore or nudity, I just had to double check the rating to make sure I was correct.

If they can maintain this level of quality for a third film I would be happy to attend.

 

Fury Road

The new Mad Max: Fury Road trailer just came out, although the movie doesn’t come out till next year.  I’ll miss Mel Gibson, but Thomas Hardy is a fantastic actor.  He is someone that can completely transform himself depending on the role.  His turn in Bronson is one of my favorite pieces of acting in recent years.  Watch him in that and the see if you can find a clip of him in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and you’ll see what I mean.  (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, although it featured some great acting, is not really worth watching in total.)  The new Mad Max film is also directed by George Miller, who directed the first two, and best, of the original Mad Max Trilogy.  

One of my favorite action movies is The Road Warrior.  It is totally batshit insane.  The sheer forward momentum of the storytelling is impressive.  It is completely relentless and completely entertaining.    It is full of unforgettable imagery and it is escapist cinema at its absolute best.  I am looking forward to the new film and the trailer makes me hopeful that Miller hasn’t lost his edge.  

The Mystery of Twin Peaks

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One of the most wonderful universes that you can get lost in is Twin Peaks.  It takes you into the mystery of the world.  It’s strange, but not any stranger than real life.  It’s just that the strangeness of real life is heightened so that it is brought to the forefront.  One of the things that David Lynch does so well is to create strong emotions.  He knows that emotions are abstract, you can’t explain sadness or pain or happiness so much as you can feel it.  Through abstract visuals and sound design he creates cinema of intense feeling.  

The trick to what he does is that he often allows you to feel two different emotions at the same time. The end of Fire Walk With Me, the movie that takes place in the Twin Peaks universe, is one of the most horrifying sequences I have ever seen in film.  It is also beautiful.  The fact that it is beautiful doesn’t make it any less horrific to watch.  In fact in might make it more so, because it opens you up emotionally to it in a way that no straight horror movie or documentary ever could.  David Lynch isn’t afraid to make you feel uncomfortable, but you never ever get the sense he is trying to shock you just for the sake of it.  

The TV show Twin Peaks is a combination of different genres.  There are characters that could have come out of a film noir and there are characters that could have come out of a soap opera.  These more traditional genre elements are laced with episodes of the surreal and uncanny.  At the core of Twin Peaks is a murder mystery.  However, the TV show especially also features many moments of light comedy.  It is again the fact that it is combining different elements that make it so unique.  

But I think one thing that truly makes Twin Peaks special is that in watching it, we not only recognize feelings and emotions from reality, but the show somehow heightens the viewers reality as well.  When we enter the woods after seeing the show we may notice how dark and mysterious they are in ways we might not have payed attention to.  Entering a diner we may notice details and the behavior of people in ways in which we didn’t before.  Twin Peaks is great entertainment, but it is also something more.  It is a fictional world that makes us aware of the mysteries in our own.  

The Beautiful Strange World of Hayao Miyazaki

Don’t call him the Walt Disney of Japan: How animator Hayao Miyazaki became a cultural icon by doing everything Pixar doesn’t http://www.salon.com/2014/06/23/dont_call_him_the_walt_disney_of_japan_how_animator_hayao_miyazaki_became_a_cultural_icon_by_doing_everything_pixar_doesnt/ via @Salon

The above article is a really interesting one about the famous Japanese animator.  His films can appear very strange to the Western eye.  After traveling to and reading I have learned about how the Japanese are more comfortable with abstractions.  Abstractions are part of their everyday language.  Because of their complex social behavior they often speak in abstractions and convey certain nuances through how things are said and facial expressions. 

I love Miyazaki’s beautiful and surreal movies.  They are art and entertainment all in one.  If you are looking to go someplace you have never been give his films a try. 

My Computer Dumped Me and I am OK

My computer is down at the moment which is making it infinitely harder to post.  I have written the last three posts on my phone.  I just ordered a new battery and I am hoping that fixes the issue.  I will pray to whatever strange god necessary to make it so!  If my proofreading becomes even more dodgy than usual, at least now I have an excuse!

A week ago I watched Spike Jonze’s excellent movie Her.  I am not a huge Spike Jonze fan as I feel like his movies are often clever, but rarely land any kind of emotional connection.  I feel this may be his best film to date as it was full of ideas, visually stunning, and emotionally compelling as well.  There were several scenes which didn’t ring true, but I put this down to the aesthetic of the film, which felt to me like sort of a strange fairytale for adults. 

The movie takes place in the near future. In the movie the main character, played by Joaquin Pheonix,  falls in love with his computer operating system, voiced by Scarlett Johansson.   The movie deals with our obsession with technology, mortality, and what it is to be human.  There is a scene where Pheonix has tremendous anxiety because his operating system is temporarily down.  In one way this plays like a romantic problem as it reminds you of how you feel when you desperately want to reach someone you love, but can’t.   However it is also a metaphor for how tied into our technology we are.  We depend on things which only years ago didn’t exist.  So many of the things that occupy our time seem essential, but that is just a fabrication. 

I was exasperated when I couldn’t get my computer to work.  But then I just read a book and the morning slowly faded from existence,  all the same…

Postscript: However, if my ipod breaks down the streets will run red with blood.

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Monday Morning Fun

I thought I would provide some fun for those of you that will be reading this early Monday morning at work. I was watching Lethal Weapon and within 30 seconds Danny Glover said the classic action movie line, “I’m too old for this shit.” If you haven’t seen it here is a Movie Supercut showing how many times variations of this line has been used. Tell your boss you are too old for this shit! Enoy…

God is (Not?) Dead

While I was looking through movies to possibly go to tonight I happened to notice a movie with the title God’s Not Dead.  The movie is about a person of faith that has a college professor that asks his class to write God is Dead on the first day of class.  If they will not do this they face a failing grade.  As you can predict the student of faith challenges his professor and apparently this results in a movie that ends in a face off between the person of faith and the college professor.  I haven’t seen the movie so I am not going to criticize it.  Maybe it is even an interesting intellectual debate, but I doubt it.

However, it made me want to convey several ideas.  Let’s say for sake of argument that there is a God.  If he/she is all powerful and created the entire universe does he/she need mere mortals defending him/her?

Also, again if he is all powerful and created everything doesn’t that mean he created humor and insults too?  Can he not laugh at him/herself and take some insults?  Is he/she really going to get their panties in a bunch if I say he/she doesn’t exist?  Is his/her ego so big that they need to constantly be praised all of the time?  Wouldn’t a truly enlightened being much rather see us treat the poor and weak among us kindly, rather than use all of our energy building shrines and praising someone that already has unlimited power?

I think our purpose here on earth is, like Kurt Vonnegut says, “to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.”  If there is nothing after this world than we have defiantly been kind in the face of nothing.  I would say that is pretty noble.  If there is a god then hopefully they are a kind enlightened being that will judge us for how kind we have been, and not based upon if we observed a bunch of superstitious rituals.  If he/she isn’t so kind then maybe we will need to help each other in the next world too.

There is Always Something Worth Seeing

I watched the movie The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology for a second time tonight with my brother.  Wanting to learn a little about the film’s star, philosopher and narrator Slavoj Zizek, I read several articles about him.  This is one that appears in The Guardian:

www.theguardian.com/culture/2011/jul/15/slavoj-zizek-interview-life-writing

I am linking to this one not because it is the best, I am just discovering this subject, but I really like the last paragraph.  Here it is quoted in full:

It is time for him to leave. “My son and I are going to see Transformers.” He means the third and final installment of the dismal film franchise. It’s apparently terrible, I warn him. “I have been to terrible films before. There is always something worth seeing.”

There are good and bad movies.  However, all movies say something about the society in which they are created in.  This is not to say that I don’t personally try to avoid bad movies, but that in seeing them, if I get stuck in a theater watching something I realize I shouldn’t have gone to, there is usually some idea to be gained from watching them.  Although movies might have several layers to them, the explicit and the implicit, they usually either champion or subvert the dominant culture in some way.  It may be scene by scene even, but there is something to take away from every film experience. 

The last movie I saw in the theater was Godzilla. (Spoilers to follow.) I didn’t enjoy this movie in any kind of entertainment way.  I kept remembering I was in a theater watching a movie instead of getting lost in the world the film created.  On a level of entertainment it failed for me.  However, it had much to say about the culture we live in.  It was a technical marvel that also seemed to me to be largely empty and meaningless.  So much of the modern world is like that.  We can be wowed by our technical achievements, but also feel spiritually empty much of the time. 

The movie was also a piece of military propaganda in some ways.  It did acknowledge our mistake of dropping a bomb on Hiroshima, but it seemed to say that the new military establishment had corrected its ways and that our commanders, represented by David Straithairn, would do the right thing when necessary.  It also painted the average soldier as always being brave and intelligent, when we know better from incidents like Abu Ghraib to not always be the case. 

The movie also had a very slim environmental message, although one that was diluted by Godzilla saving our civilization at the end.  The movie contained the idea that nature is larger than us and that we were arrogant to think we could control it. 

Both of these themes, a sort of subtle catering to both the right and the left, take place while untold carnage and destruction happens, because of the monsters that have been released.  However, even this destruction is rendered largely meaningless as there is great amount of destruction and death without there being any real carnage.  The violence is never made horrifying or visceral.  Our government does its best to prevent images of the violence that we perpetuate from reaching the general public.  We may see a building exploding, but true human destruction is often kept slightly out of the frame.  The movie did this to earn a PG-13 rating so that it can gross as much money as possible, but it is telling of our times that we cannot confront violence head on in any realistic way.  If we were to do so in reality we would surely not let the military industrial complex get away with as many of it’s recent past and current sins as we do, at least I hope so. 

Anyway, I’m not telling you to seek out bad movies looking for meaning.  I am only hoping that if you do find yourself in a movie that you are not enjoying, it may be worth more of your time than you realize.  Often low brow movies can reflect who we are as much as high brow movies.  Keep your eyes open. 

The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology Review

The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology is an incredibly powerful film.  It is somehow able to pack in all of the ideas of a great book or the best of a college course, while also being highly entertaining.  It combines films, philosophy, religion, psychoanalysis, history, and politics.  Although the film was directed by Sophie Fiennes, whose visual mastery should not go unnoticed, the film belongs to the narrator and star Slavoj Zizek.

Zizek uses films such as They Live, Full Metal Jacket, The Sound of Music, and others to dive into big ideas.  Clips from the films are shown interspersed with shots of Zizek appearing on recreations of the sets of the same films.  Zizek’s narration is powerful because he is able to make even the headiest of ideas understandable.  The movie is so packed with interesting ideas that I feel that I would be doing the film a disservice without watching it again, or several times, before I tried to list all of the things it covered.

One of the biggest ideas in the movie is that all power, whether that is in the form of religion or even totalitarian atheism, drives from peoples’ belief in the Big Other.  The Big Other could be God or history or any idea that exists outside of the self that allows people to follow orders without questioning them.

He also talks about having the right and wrong dreams.  We often dream of an idealized version of the reality that is presented to us, a dream which would not make us happy if achieved.  In order to make the world a better place we need to change the kind of dreams we have.  An example is our common thinking that we would just be happy if we had more money, etc.; when it is very possible that the organizing principles of our society are what bring about so much unhappiness.  He focuses on ideology because from the very beginning he talks about how trying to see outside of ideology is painful and we often resist it.

He also talks about capitalism vs. environmentalism.  He asks the question why is it easier in some ways in our existing order to imagine the end of life as we know it rather than make a few small adjustments to our economic system.

Even if you end up not agreeing with Zizek, if you are the kind of person that welcomes big ideas this film will leave you with plenty to chew on.  I feel as if I am not doing this film justice.  This is a subversive, intelligent, entertaining movie that should be watched if you are looking for something stimulating.

P.S.  Make sure that if you watch the film that you watch through to the end of the credits.  This film is available for streaming on Netflix currently.  

Good and Bad Film Adaptations

When translating a book into a movie I think it is much more important that the spirit of the book is translated than the actual literal story.  Right now I am reading the book version of the new Scarlett Johansson film Under the Skin.  Although the very basics of the story are similar so far, a female alien in the guise of a human drives around through Scotland picking up hitchhikers, much of it is different.  However, they both create a similar mood.  (And I admit that I am only partially through the book.)  There is a sort of contemplative melancholy to both, although both occasionally feature very subtle dry humor. 

In the book the main character is sort of bizarre looking, aside from her large breasts that keep being mentioned.  In the film Scarlett Johansson is a femme fatale whose beauty lures men to their doom.  There are also differences in the story itself.  In the movie she takes the men to a house and in the book it is a farm.  However, again the emotional feel of both is very similar.  In that way I feel the movie is true to the book while being something unique and worthwhile in its own right. 

Meanwhile, despite I know a lot of people loving it; I did not enjoy the movie No Country for Old Men.  Had I never read the book I feel that I might have.  However, I felt the movie, while being a faithful adaptation in terms of story and character, was simply a visual retelling of the book without the inner dialogue that made the book so fascinating. It was too literal of an adaptation.  But that emotional truth, the kind that is represented by the inner thoughts of the characters, seemed lacking to me. 

There is not necessarily a right way and a wrong way to adapt books to film.  However, I definitely lean towards the idea that it is much more important to get the emotional content of an adaptation right than to literally retell the story.  Movies can never be books.  However, I am satisfied if I walk out of a movie feeling the same way I did after reading something I liked, whether or not the story is the same.