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.  

Kinski on Herzog

He should be thrown alive to the crocodiles! An anaconda should strangle him slowly! A poisonous spider should sting him and paralyze his lungs! The most venomous serpent should bite him and make his brain explode! No — panther claws should rip open his throat — that would be much too good for him! Huge red ants should piss into his lying eyes and gobble up his balls and his guts! He should catch the plague! Syphilis! Yellow fever! Leprosy! It’s no use; the more I wish him the most gruesome deaths, the more he haunts me – Klaus Kinski on Werner Herzog

One of the greatest directors of all time is Werner Herzog.  Whether making documentaries or feature films his movies are full of original ideas and images.  When you watch one of his films you are guaranteed to see something you have never seen before.  His films are often filled with ecstatic fever dream imagery.  Even his documentaries allow you to experience the world in a new way. 

Over the course of his career Herzog made five feature films with volatile actor Klaus Kinski.  A completely insane and often hilarious film is the director’s documentary on Kinski, My Best Fiend

The above quote is from Kinski’s autobiography Kinski Uncut, which is also known as All I Need is Love.  It is probably the most perverse and batshit book I have ever read.  It was as if he was daring the world to hate him. 

In the movie My Best Fiend Herzog claims that he and Kinski sat around trying to think of the most vile terms to describe the director in.  The above quote always provides me with a good laugh when I need it. 

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.

Complexity, Art, and Monsters

I feel a strange kinship with Michael Moore.  They’re trying to pit us against each other in the press, but it’s a hologram.  They really have got nothing to do with one another.  It’s just some kind of device, some kind of left-right.  He makes some salient points.  There was some very expert, elliptical editing going on.  However, what the hell are we doing in Iraq?  No one can explain to me in a reasonable manner that I can accept why we’re there, why we went there, and why we’re still there.  

The fear mongering we depict in this film reminds me a little of President Bush and his guys.  

I doubt very highly if, while reading the above quotes, you attributed them to Mel Gibson.  Jeez I get up to some strange shit at night.  Somehow at 1am I started watching Braveheart and then I went down the rabbit hole of IMDB.  I think Mel Gibson is an interesting figure because if you like his films, as I do, it brings up many interesting questions.  Should we separate the art from the artist?  Do we have the right to judge people’s whole lives on possibly momentary lapses of reason?  Aren’t people almost always more complex than our media portrays them?  I have defended him here before and these quotes again made me remember why I have.

Mel Gibson is someone that struggles from alcoholism and bi-polar disorder.  Having known people with both, I know that especially with alcoholism that people that are good and decent in most of their lives can turn into absolute monsters.  Most of us would say that alcoholism is a disease and that we should realize the good in people that are struggling against that disease and not condemn them completely for the monster that they may become.

I again am not supporting in anyway the awful things that Gibson has said.  He also has displayed extreme hubris by doing things like building a personal chapel on his own property.  Any of you that read this blog on a regular basis know that I believe in equality for all and also have politics that at times differ greatly from some of the things that Gibson has professed to.  However, what I do defend is his right to make art.  Whatever laws he has broken he has paid for.  I also read last night that after his drunk driving episode he was on probation for over four years where for several months he had to take classes four times a week.

If you look at our criminal justice system it punishes people long after they have served their debt to society.  Many poor people have trouble finding work after serving time or after receiving something like a DUI.  Someone like Gibson has the money that they don’t have to worry about those kinds of consequences.  He never has to work another day in his life if he wants to.  However, we have to be even handed in our justice system.  We should prosecute bankers that commit fraud just as we prosecute low level conmen.  Inversely if we are going to forgive low income offenders after they have paid their debt to society, which we do not but should, then we should also forgive someone like Gibson once they have paid theirs.

Also, I believe that one should try to separate art from the artist.  I am sure all of us own albums or watch movies that have saved our lives at certain times, where if we knew the personal behavior of their creators, might sicken us.  I remember hearing a priest one time on the radio talking about how art is often a thing created by people trying to heal themselves from their personal demons.  Because of that it is often an altruistic force that should be allowed to stand apart from its creator much of the time.  Therefore we should rightly condemn the anti-Semitism of someone like Wagner, but we also should not prevent ourselves from enjoying the extreme beauty of his music.

There is also a portion of our culture that is truly sick that capitalizes on the struggles of others.  On the high end this is represented by something like TMZ.  On the low end this is represented by something like Busted Magazine or any number of low level publications that print mug photos of our fellow citizens.  They capture people at their lowest and weakest moments and make sport of it for the rest of us.

People are complicated.  The world is complicated.  We live in a society that often values simplicity whether represented as left vs. right or good vs. evil.  There are times when we must make hard value judgments that come down on one side or the other of this divide.  However, when the world allows it, we should allow our feelings and interpretations of what we see to be, well, complex.

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. 

Godzilla Vs. The Koch Brothers

There is a minor spoiler for the movie Godzilla.  

This is the last time I mention the movie Godzilla, because quite frankly it wasn’t a good enough movie to keep writing about.  It killed off the two best actors in the first third of the movie.  Although it was visually spectacular, much better than the quick edit popcorn movies that seem to be the norm.  This was because the camera actually held shots long enough to let you take in the spectacle.  The special effects were top notch.  However, once the best actors were killed off there really weren’t any characters that one could become invested in.  Although there were some hints that the movie was trying to get across man’s relationship with nature, this really was mostly a movie of pure entertainment.  However, the plot was pretty pedestrian summer fair and the characters were pretty weak.  I’m not looking for high art in a monster movie, but there are ways to make these movies that allow for better escapism.  I just watched Gladiator again this week.  That movie has a super simple story that we’ve seen a thousand times, but I was invested in every minute of that movie despite having seen it before.  I’m not sure why the reviews for Godzilla are so great, other than the fact that compared to the Michael Bay movies that seem to be the new norm this one was like a Fellini film in comparison.  However, a couple guys behind me kept remarking how great it was, so who knows?  Again maybe the bar has been set so low that anything that isn’t 100% mindless dogshit seems the work of a genius.

Anyway, the only reason I am even thinking about Godzilla again today is I have been reading more articles about what a pack of mutants the Koch brothers are.  Godzilla tries to save mankind from ruin while the Koch brothers are slowly helping to destroy our society.  When a giant fictional ancient lizard inspires more hope than the people that are shaping a great deal of U.S. policy, one must ask oneself what the fuck is going on?  I would pay top dollar for a ticket to see Godzilla rise from the ocean and stomp Koch Industries into space dust.  If only.