Category Archives: Apocalyptic Films

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017): Growing Beyond Caesar

“War for the Planet of the Apes” is easily the best of the Franchise. This is a film series I reviewed back when the blog was beginning that shows just how strong the new series has held up (Given “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is number 1 for me until today and “Dawn” is in the Top 5″ of the series). This is a series that deserves far more credit than it has been given as it has tacked social and political issues while never forgetting the character arc of Caesar which drives the series to it’s conclusion in this film (please no more after this). This is the perfect end as Caesar’s arc is completed and we see how this series ties into the classic series completing the time cycle that has played throughout all these films. I’ll explain more in below, but for now, this a series that might make my Top 5 for this year and is easily the best of the series, both Classic and New.

‘War for the Planet of the Apes” was directed by Matt Reeves, who co wrote it along with Mark Bomback with the producers being Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver.

The story involves the last remnants of humanity seeking to annihilate the apes under the Colonel as the virus takes away speech and the human and ape populations are on the risk of extinction, as Caesar seeks peace and home away from the struggle.

SPOILERS

The Pros: The World – The reboot world has been nothing but good for me as a re-imagining of the apocalypse. We get to see the forest slowly take over the human settlements as the apes gain more power through the spread of the Simian Flu (the virus that kills off humanity and also has other affects). Hell, there is whole mini-series before “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” that shows the viruses decimation of mankind. It is tragic and beautiful and this film is the final payoff where militaristic mankind losing itself to the virus faces off against the apes set to inherit the world.

The Poisonous of Nationalistic Ideology – The villain of this film is portrayed through the Colonel in Woody Harrelson who is ready to kill humanity when they lose speech, which the Simian Flu has been causing since dawn. This leads to his enslavement of the apes and his turning on his own people who won’t kill their own as he sees this separation as speech as something worth ending, even if it is his son. This is powerful as he has lost himself to his belief and was willing to kill family for it, even as he became it and kills himself and all his abuse of the apes is for nothing…he is a powerless man in a world that has left him behind and he is tragic, but not sympathetic, a good villain.

Caesar and his Team – Caesar and his team are great. You have Maurice as the heart who teaches sign language to the human Nova (who Caesar kills in self-defense), you have Rocket you has been around as the Scotty/Chekov always standing by his captain and Luca, a hardened warrior who finds heart and dies to protect Caesar, and Nova herself who comes to love her adopted family and helps save the apes from the Human Nationalists.

The Ghost of Hate – Caesar has dreams of Kuba as his desire to kill the Colonel (and revenge against humanity for the death of his son too) consumes him. It is powerful and Serkis shows so much emotion in his lines and visions of Kuba telling him to die or to get revenge. This ghost haunts him until he finds an identity beyond himself and Nationalism. In the end, Caesar grows beyond his tribe.

A World Beyond Caesar – A major arc of this series is showing that the apes have an arc beyond Caesar, as does humanity. Humanity is killed because of their fight against themselves, not against the apes. The apes find peace and Caesar dies at the Oasis. Caesar’s arc is complete where no longer has hate and helped his people find more, as Nova is part of their tribe. This is powerful as it shows even in that Caesar is dead and humanity killed itself, it paradoxically lives on in the best of the survivors via Nova. Even when hope is dead, it can still live on.

Okay/Con: A Too Long Ending – This movie has a bit of “Return of the King” going on, as there are a few points it could have ended…Caesar spares the Colonel, the apes escape the prison, the apes survive the avalanche, and finally, the apes find the Oasis. Either of these could have been when Caesar dies from his injuries but they wait for the Oasis. I didn’t hate it, but it did show how long this movie went.

This is a film that might make my Top 5 at the end of the year and is the best of the “Planet of the Apes” Franchise.” It beats Rises as we are given reasons to sympathize with the villains and unlike “Dawn” the stakes and cost are that much higher. This is a wonderful end to an amazing Franchise and I hope they don’t do anything else with it, as there are enough Easter eggs here to tigh into the original “Planet of the Apes” that if you want to catch, I’d advise you see as they only add to the amazing story that takes place here.

Also, here is my past retrospect of the “Planet of the Apes Franchise”: https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2014/07/11/planet-of-the-apes-franchise-retrospect-worst-to-best-of-the-franchise/

Final Score: 9.8 / 10 The best of the “Planet of the Apes Franchise.”

 

Escape from L.A. (1996): Tearing Down the Machines

Escape From L.A.

    John Carpenter is easily one of my favorite directors at this point. “The Thing” is one of my favorite films as are both his “Escape” films. “Escape from L.A.” is better from “Escape from New York” in my opinion because the characters are more memorable and everyone has more agency, it also is much more of a protest too as we see Snake do much more than troll the President to finally end this film. All of these things make it the stronger film with the only thing being less being the cinematography.

     “Escape from L.A.” was directed by John Carpenter who co-wrote it along with Kurt Russell and Debra Hill with Debra Hill and Kurt Russell also being the producers behind the film.

     The story is in 2000 after a huge Earthquake has turned L.A. into an island. A theocratic President blames L.A.’s sins for this and turns it into a prison Island to put all the “undesirables” from the United States. Things come to a head when Cuervo Jones, the leader of the Shining Path seduces the President’s daughter Utopia in order for her to steal a Super Weapon which is transported to L.A. as Cuervo Jones plans the conquest of the United States. Snake is brought in again to stop him as he is infected with a super-virus giving him only 10 hours to complete the mission.

The Pros: The Premise – The idea of the Earthquake making things worse since the last film makes sense, as is the rise of theocracy in the United States as people would be seeking stability and blaming of “the Other.” We’re already seeing that blaming of the other right now with how the Syrian refugees are being seen here in the States as fear takes over rationality. In that way what brings about the premise hits very close to home.

The World – The World is factionalized with the Third World on one side fighting for revolution with Cuervo as their leader and the President on the other seeking to uphold the status quo of inequality. Both are dictators though as they each silence dissent in the same way.

The Themes – The themes are about getting back to the base of what it means to be human. Are ways of escaping that base humanity and seeking to control others (the President and Cuervo) or ourselves (the Plastic Surgeon and mutants) runs throughout the film as it is only when Utopia and Eddie work with Snake that there is any chance for things to change as either side winning is the loss of freedom for all.

The Action – The action is once again solid as we see Eddie, Hershe and Snake to an air assault on gliders against Cuervo and Cuervo taking out Snake when Snake is taking out his men in the first car chase is really good too.

The Soundtrack – Shirley Walker and John Carpenter do a great job of keeping the sci. fi. feel from the last film in the soundtrack while adding a much more apocalyptic feel as well as everything is bigger and more desolate than before.

The Characters – The characters are all compelling, whether they are antagonistic or not and I anytime any of them appeared I wanted to see what choices and decisions they would make.

Taslima – Is a small role but shows Snake the fearful on the Island. She speaks for the vulnerable and is super trusting too. At one point her and Snake escape from the Surgeon and his plastic surgeon mutants before she is eventually killed. Valeria Golina did a great job as this minor character.

Brazen – Michelle Forbes (Ro Laren from “Star Trek: TNG”) is awesome as Mallory’s second-in-command as we see someone who is calm and collected and is always looking towards the bigger picture.

Commander Mallory – Mallory is a true believer unlike is predecessor and at one point tries to kill Snake until he realizes he was played out he had played Snake with Snake only appearing as a hologram before taking away all power from the world. He felt threatening too and we see him force the President to stay and face the consequences of making the weapon. He isn’t a coward. Stacy Keach does a great job.

Utopia – Utopia starts out as one dimensional but becomes a full character over the course of the film as we see her realize that Cuervo is just as corrupt as her father, leading her to helping Snake fight back and escaping along with him, only to be sent to the electric chair by her father. She is a character who is trapped and is only freed when all the power around the world is shut down for good by the Super Weapon when Snake activates it.

Map to the Stars Eddie – Eddie is a double crosser who in the end chooses Snake after he sees that Cuervo cares nothing about him. Steve Buscemi did a great job as the quick talking salesman whose tape about L.A. is used to mock the President when it is played at the end. He is comedic but is a schemer who you end up taking seriously. He doesn’t make it out of L.A. as he shoots Cuervo but Cuervo fires the rocket before dying forcing Eddie to jump out of the helicopter.

Cuervo Jones – Cuervo is a great enemy. He is the dictator of L.A. and is connected to the oppressed as a symbol around the world. He is brutal though and cannot see past himself. He doesn’t dehumanize his enemies like the President but he is just as brutal and corrupt as he even turns on his allies. Georges Corraface did great.

The President – The President is the worst of the Religious Right as all racial, religious and political minorities are sent to L.A. He is brutal and clearly is a functioning dictator in the United States, though he was elected as the timeline doesn’t tell us anything different. He is a true believer like Cuervo as we see him willing to sacrifice his daughter to death for having been with the enemy. Seeing him literally lose power and get mocked at the end was rewarding. The guy was a great antagonist. Cliff Robinson was awesome.

Hershe – Is a transgender heroine and also Snake’s ex-partner. It is she who gives Snake the air support he needs to stop Cuervo and get the weapon. She thankfully manages to escape to the mainland and is off the copter before the troops arrive to take Snake. She is a great leader and the only faction standing against Cuervo and his corruption. Pam Grier played my favorite character in this film.

Snake Plissken – Snake is back and is a much better person in this! He doesn’t threaten people nearly as often and we see him go from setting out to kill Utopia to protecting her pretty quickly. He also does more than just troll and chooses to take away power from both Cuervos Revolutionaries and the President, both who are fighting with the same mentality of silencing all opposition and using murder as the way to enforce will upon the world. Snake isn’t a hero but he does the action that changes everything before he disappears once again.

Okay: The Cinematography – There are a few moments where green screen use is obvious and took me out of the film a little bit, the most glaring example being when Snake is surfing the largest wave. It’s an odd statement to say but this film is much more cartoony than it’s predecessor but it works and fits the tone.

    This was a great film with only certain cartoony moments in regards to cinematography as the only real downside. The characters are much more colorful than in “Escape from New York,” and Snake is more sympathetic as we see him act for more than just himself on multiple occasions. The antagonists are good too with the Socialist Dictator Cuervo on one side and the religious theocratic President on the other. Both are extreme sides of fanaticism that are rejected by Snake in the end when he makes the decision to take away their abilities to control and destroys the machine that’s been using him during this film and the last one. John Carpenter did an amazing job creating these two film and I can see how they inspired the character of Solid Snake and the world of the “Metal Gear” series. I highly recommend both the films.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

Escape From New York (1981): Trapped in the Machine

Escape From New York

    “Escape from New York” and “Escape from L.A.” were stories I was only really familiar with through the game series that they helped inspire. Solid Snake was drawn from the ex-soldier and protagonist of this series Snake Plissken. Both of them are isolated soldiers forced into situations of their control and must race against time to complete the mission and save themselves. The biggest difference is the “Metal Gear” series is much more sci. fi. based while the “Escape” series is more dystopian and apocalyptic. Suffice to say I really enjoyed “Escape from New York,” and consider it a favorite film even though it does have some obvious problems that I will go into.

       John Carpenter wrote and directed the film while it was co-wrote by Nick Castle and produced by Larry J. Franco and Debra Hill.

   The story begins in 1988 when there is a 400% increase in crime leading to the United States turning Manhattan Island into a high security prison. It is in 1997 and Air Force One get’s hijacked and crashed into the prison that is Manhattan forcing the New York Police Force to send in Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) to rescue the President and save the tape that is needed for the Peace Summit with the Soviet Union and China. From here Snake is in a race against time as he is infected with capsules that will kill him in 22 hours unless they are removed.

The Pros: The Premise – The premise of society falling apart leading to a tyrannical government rising in the United States is fascinating, especially as we see how the disregard for life of those who aren’t among the privileged has decreased drastically. Whether it is Snake having the capsules put into him that give him a death sentence unless he completes his mission or all the rules that you see the moment you come in, as well as the fact that all those entering Manhattan Island have the choice to commit suicide rather than going to Prison. The disregard for life it at it’s height.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful. It is dark and shadowed and captures the feel of being trapped extremely well. Everything is hidden, which sets up how we don’t see what happened to the President until much later in the story and we don’t meet the Duke of New York until later in the story either. Dean Cundey and Jim Lucas did a great job.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is very 80s and it works. There is a tense synth feel that pervades the film which captures that this is supposed to be a future really well. John Carpenter and Alan Howarth did a great job.

The Action – The action is extremely solid. Whether it is Snake having to fight against his dying body and different crooks or facing off against the Slag in a bat fight in the Duke of New York’s arena or finally racing across a mined bridge being chased by the Duke…every action scene moves the plot forward and establishes the strength and guile of our hero or the motivation of those around him.

 Maggie – Maggie is the girlfriend of Brain who was once Snake’s partner but ran away. She comes to Brain’s defense but also sees the bigger picture too as she and Brain help save the President from the Duke. This leads to the Brain eventually dying and her using the last of her energy to try and kill the Duke. She was a great character and gave us a picture of someone making it in Manhattan. Adrienne Barbeau did great.

Brain – Harry Dean Stanton is great as the double crosser who eventually comes to stand by his friend. He’s smart and that is what keeps him alive as we see him outsmart both Snake and the Duke on multiple occasions and in doing so keep his head. He does eventually die on the bridge and can’t make it out but he makes possible Snake and the President’s escape, saving Manhattan from being bombed by the mainland.

Duke of New York – Isaac Hayes (Chef from “South Park”) is a great villain. He is a guy who is confident who sees himself as number one. He’s rose through the ranks of the prison to the point that he owns it now and just wants to get revenge on the world that put him there. He nearly succeeds too, only being stopped by Brain and Maggie when they change sides and help Snake free the President.

Snake Plissken – Snake is a bitter ex-convict who also served in the army at one point. Among the people he is seen as a bit of a folk hero and most people in Manhattan eventually recognize him. He’s ruthless but has a good heart as we see him go from threatening Brain and Maggie to trying to use all he can to help them escape. He’s pretty anti-authority too and we see him give cabbie’s tape to the President, embarrassing him on live television before China and the USSR while Snake himself destroys the tape that the government was going to use. His story is resisting the machine even as he is forced to be a part of it. Kurt Russell does a great job.

Okay: Bob Hauk – He is the guy who injects Snake with the capsules forcing him to race against time. He believes in Snake and has a respect for him as at the end he asks Snake if he’d like to join his team.

The Cons: The President – He’s a tool and wasn’t all that memorable. He wasn’t bad but he wasn’t written with much depth as we see him dismiss the lives that were laid down so he could escape and him cringing everytime he is threatened.

Romero – Romero just looks crazy but we never get why the Duke made him his second in command. Because of this he is just kind of there.

   This story has great world building, but I didn’t feel as attached to the characters as I did in “Escape from L.A.” I think a big reason for this is a lot of what the story does is world building and tone setting. It is “Alien” to “Aliens” and in both cases in order to experience the world we don’t have the time to really grow attached to a lot of the characters. It is still a film I’d recommend to anyone who loves a good dystopian or apocalyptic story and it sets up “Escape from L,A” and the story beats “Escape from L.A.” will use really well.

Final Score: 9 / 10

Terminator Salvation (2009): When Redemption Means Death

Terminator Salvation

    We continue the “Terminator Franchise” review with “Terminator Salvation.” “Terminator Salvation” was a decent film. It had a consistent character arc and kept the theme of redemption and change going on throughout it. I also enjoyed a lot of the casting choices they made, though it wasn’t perfect and I’d still rate “The Terminator” and “T2” above this film because they were much more focused so didn’t feel long at any point. This one does drag at times and doesn’t do as much as it could have with those reflective moments.

    The film was directed by Joseph McGinty “McG” Nichol, written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris and produced by Derek Anderson, Moritz Borman, Victor Kubicek and Jeffrey Silver.

    The story begins in the past with Dr. Kogan (Helena Bonham Carter) giving Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) another chance at life after death if he donates his body to their cause. He agrees and wakes up in the future where the Terminators are fighting to annihilate humanity. John Connor (Christian Bale) is seeking Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) to protect him and the Machines are too. When Reese runs into Marcus he becomes his protector and later when Reese is captured it is Marcus who is the best bet to infiltrate Skynet when they discover that he is a Cyborg.

The Pros: The Terminators – The Terminators are great in this! There a whole variety of them from HK’s that fly, T-600s, Tanks and even the T-800 makes an appearance and nearly kills John and Marcus. They feel like a threat and it takes human ingenuity to defeat them as they can take a lot of hits and fight until they are dead. The designs and their actions were some of the best part of this film.

The Resistance – The resistance is torn between those who believe in John as a Messiah and those who think he is a false prophet (mostly those in leadership) this could have been explored more but I’m going to give them a point for the idea as no group has full unity.

Kyle Reese – Anton Yelchin is great as the teenage Kyle Reese! We see him taking care of a mute girl and that he has traps set in the city that help him kill Terminators. He also gets Marcus to care about anyone outside of himself as Reese is always protecting the mute child Star. They are the heart of this as it is their resistance that keeps others going who are also trapped and they are why John Connor attacks Skynet so he can rescue them.

Blair Williams – Blair is a pilot who saves Marcus and is saved by Marcus and it is due to her rescuing him after the Resistance plans to kill Marcus that he becomes good. She is trusting and is one of the few good people in the world as we see her never seek to kill, only to protect herself and others. Moon Bloodgood does a great job.

John Connor – Christian Bale is fantastic as John! In him we see a man wrestling with his destiny while also trying to keep his humanity as people lose theirs all around him. He is desperate and paranoid but changes when Marcus shows him that not everything is as hopeless as it seems and people risk it all as in the end Marcus risks his life for John and John ends the film talking about the long fight ahead and how there is hope.

Marcus Wright – Marcus is a blank slate for a lot of the help as he just lashes out and is angry and full of guilt. That changes when Kyle Reese and Blair remind him that he has a second chance to be a better person and he takes it and becomes a protector, even protecting the Resistance who tried to kill him and torture him. In the end he finally gives his life to save John too as he found his purpose for having a second chance at life. Sam Worthington does a good job. In the end redemption means death for him. As it turns out the entire film he’d been seeking redemption for the crimes he’d been killed for.

The Cons: The Resistance Leaders – They mostly yell and tell John Connor “no.” They are just there to show that the leaders have lost their humanity so when the Terminators find them using their own weapon against them I didn’t mind. They were just there to be a threat to John Connor and not actual characters.

Meaningless Minor Characters – John Connor’s wife Kate and his second in command Barnes are just kind of there. They are there to hate on Marcus for being a cyborg and that is about it. They could have been replaced by anyone and it wouldn’t have mattered, which is a shame as they are connected to John and I wanted to learn why and what their relationships to him meant.

Skynet and Marcus’s Free Will – Skynet tries to get Marcus to kill John and tells him he was a plant, but he was a plant with free will so it just ends up being a stupid plan. We see Dr. Kogan who was one of the early creators of Skynet apparently but I never believed she had any hold over Marcus and him being a machine without free will was never established earlier. This was a weak thing that really brought down the film and kept it from being good.

Slow at Times – There are a few action scenes that drag, especially early on when Marcus is exploring the wasteland. The film could have been half and hour shorter and that would have made it a good film as the drag would not have happened.

Plot Armor – Kyle Reese is captured by Skynet at one point, I guess they didn’t kill him because they wanted John…but if they had just killed him John wouldn’t exist anymore. This was an issue I had as if Kyle was going to be captured it should have been at the end, the machines had him for days and did not kill him.

Gratuitous Nudity – At one point it is raining and Blair takes off her shirt. Marcus looks and that is the entire scene except him saving her from a rape later. Really? It is just poor storytelling and gratuitous sexualizing of a pretty cool character.

   This was an enjoyable film and for any fan of this franchise this has the heart an soul that “Terminator 3” never had. It still has issues such as Skynet and the Resistance leaders not being fully fleshed or feeling like real characters, and Blair’s gratuitous naked shot was annoying and is far too common in films…but the main characters work. I cared about what happened to Kyle Reese and John Connor and even managed to care about Marcus Wright so has sacrifice at the end to save John Connor actually meant something. When I return to this series it will be for “Genisys” and later a rating of the films from Worst to Best. So far it has been a good adventure.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003): Feels Like a Made for Television Movie and Misses What Made It’s Predecessors Good

Terminator_3_poster

     This was not a good film, not by any stretch of the imagination. At it’s best it is a forgettable action film that misses the entire point of what made the other 2 films good and at it’s worst it is an example of so many of the things Hollywood and the Studios can get wrong about making films. Where the other films had memorable characters and stylized ways in which scenes were cast this one has forgettable character and cinematography that looks like it came out of a low budget television movie. For an end to a trilogy (an end that wasn’t needed in the first place) this one missed the mark by a long shot.

    The film was directed by Jonathan Mostow and written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris who also did the story with Tedi Sarafian. The film was produced by Mario Kassar, Andrew G. Vajna, Joel B. Michaels, Hal Lieberman and Colin Wilson.

    The story involves a T-X being sent back in time to kill all the resistant leaders before they have the chance to join John Connor while John Connor is just trying to survive. When the T-X discovers him her mission changes as she hunts him and his future wife Kate Brewster. From here the story unfolds as Future John has also sent back an updated Model 101 to defend them and prepare John for Judgement Day.

The Pros: Nick Stahl – Nick Stahl does a great job as John Connor, but he is given such a horrible script that nothing can be done with it. This movie is a terrible joke that he is in the middle of and his talent is wasted here, he does a good job with what he has though.

Okay: The Action – Some of the action sequences are decent, like the fight on a moving crane as cars chase Kate and John but some are pretty bad too, especially since the action serves no purpose. We know Arnold is the Terminator and after “T2” we are supposed to root for him I guess? So none of the action serves a purpose, John and Kate also never get the chance to stand on their own, they always need to be saved from the T-X.

The Cons: The Writing – The writing is just bad. It keeps trying to take the one liners from “The Terminator” and “T2” to bring back nostalgia but fails terribly. It also tries to make the new Model 101 literal and not know human nature but know it enough to create awkward jokes about mating…and recycling catch phrases. This script hurts the mind. There was no effort in creating it.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is forgettable. It’s liking watching a SyFy original movie or something made on a really low budget with zero creativity. Nothing is emphasized and characters and moments are forgotten as nothing is focused on…this is an example of what not to do.

T-X – T-X is the sexualized Terminator. She appears and always chooses the partner of whomever she is hunting and it even has her licking blood sexually to recognize who she killed. What a joke. She is meant to be super-powered but she only manages to kill the Model 101 who we all knew was going to die anyway and should have never been in this film in the first place. This is the kind of villain you’d see in a terrible B Movie or an original SyFy movie…basically this villain is an insult and a joke. She feels like a character that was created in a board room where they thought that people like models who are good looking and sex sells so lets put it in a Terminator!

The 2nd Model 101 – The first Model 101 had an arc, this one is just a plot device. If John needs to hook up with Kate the Model 101 will provide the means, if John needs to toughen up the Model 101 will grow his anger…and if someone needs rescueing or the T-X needs to be killed, the Model 101 is here. There is no character and the only reason Arnold was brought back is he is such an iconic part of this Series but he can’t carry it. Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese carried the first film and John Connor and Sarah Connor carried the second one. The Model 101 in “T2” was a good supporting character because he changed and was a character, this one is a plot device and a poor one at that. It is a cynical play at nostalgia.

Kate Brewster – Kate is there for John and that’s it. Her whole point is to become his wife so she isn’t given any choice. She is wholly defined by her Father who is in charge of the new Skynet and John who was her first kiss and future husband. She has no agency and is always running. She helps trap the T-X at one point and she traps John when he breaks into her clinic at the beginning and nothing else. She was a wasted character…like most of the characters in this film.

Forgettable Characters – There are a few minor characters who would later join the resistance who all get killed and there are some blank characters like Kate’s father and fiance who die just to advance the plot and get John to the area where he can lead the resistance as the world is ending. They are there and I didn’t feel their deaths at all.

Sexualizing the Terminators – The T-800 steals his clothes from a stripping gigalo but he is never sexualized the one Female Terminator is we see. From licking blood off her finger, to killing the future resistance members by luring them in…there isn’t even an emotionless robot thing going on. This Terminator doesn’t feel like a robot at all and all that is played up is the tech and sex…

Bad Comedy – The Terminator Model 101 doesn’t get sex, he had catch phrases and repeats phrases back like “I cannot each shit and die.” It was going for humor but it feels so forced and no one is in it or cares (and the writing doesn’t help) so it just comes off as fake and stilted.

Inconsistent Tone – Brutal deaths intermixed with terrible jokes and the end of the world and us wanting to feel hope at the end now that John is fulfilling his destiny and leading the resistance for humanity? There is no theme, there is no focus and there is no consistent tone. It is just bad.

James Cameron should have been the one to complete his trilogy. Rarely does trading writers and directors because the studio wishes it…lead to anything good. This film is it’s own special kind of terrible and there is nothing good to say about it beyond it having serviceable action and Nick Stahl doing the best he could with a really crappy script. This film was clearly a cynical cash grab and it shows. There is no soul in this film and it was hoping that attaching “Terminator” to the title and having Arnold make an appearance again that it would be saved…missing the point of the second one that the only reason the T-800 returning as Model 101 worked was due to him being the enemy of the first film and how it’s existence helped Sarah Connor to grow and see a new perspective, and also to show us that Terminator’s could change too. This film has none of that, there is no depth, the character arcs that are there are forgettable and predictable and the end of the world, “Judgment Day” happens and it doesn’t mean thing. This film was a waste and is not worth your time.

Final Score: 2 / 10

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015): Healing, Redemption and Actions That Matter in a World Gone Insane

Mad-Max-Fury-Road-Poster-Posse-1-600x900

       “Fury Road” is beloved by the critics for so many reasons. This film is the second film I’ve reviewed for 2015 and it blew “Age of Ultron” out of the water, and most of the action films I have watched. Rarely do you see a film that manages to mix philosophy, character development and action so seamlessly and mastering the art of showing and not telling. There are moments where history is told in a glance and where you see the character relationships change from the circumstances around them. Suffice to say, it is amazing that after 30 years away from his Franchise that George Miller managed to create the best film from that world yet.

     The film was directed by George Miller who was also one of the writers and producers of the film. The other writers were Brendan McCarthy and Nico Loutharis while the other producers were Doug Mitchell and P.J. Voeten.

SPOILERS AHEAD

     The story involves the capture of Max (Tom Hardy) and him turning into a blood donor for one of Immortan Joe’s (Hugh Keays-Byrne) War Boys Nux (Nicholas Hoult). He is pulled into a larger purpose and freedom when Furiosa (Charlize Theron) escapes with the wives of Immortan Joe to bring them to freedom and the Green Place. From here and Nux must make a choice and rethink their beliefs as does Furiousa when she soon realizes that there might not be a safe place for them to return.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful! The vehicles are shot like their are mobile homes and living creatures and they have life to them as people use them to protect and to attack and each vehicle has distinct personalities. From the spiky vehicles that belong to the Vultures, and the other factions that follow Immortan Joe. John Seale did a great job.

The Action – This is an action film and the action is seamless. We see this mostly through the eyes of Nux who soon realizes his God Immortan Joe who conditioned him since he was a child to worship him cares nothing for his well being and leaves him trapped on the War Rig. We see him fight off the vultures and he is the first to attack multiple times as well as rescued by Max (due to chaining max to himself for his blood and later by the wives). It is through his eyes we see the insane see more than death and destruction and each battle shows how he grows and changes into someone who is willing to risk all for the good. The action doesn’t stop until the end but gives moments of reflection too.

The Soundtrack – Junkie XL did a fantastic job on the soundtrack! It is classical meets heavy metal with the right moments for silence too, such as when Furiosa finds her childhood home gone and everyone she knew dead and the intensity of the action scenes as cars explode and War Boys leap between vehicles to get at the wives and destroy Furiosa, Nux and Max. The soundtrack like the action doesn’t let up until the end. Also the War Boy playing the electric guitar that spouted fire was worked seamlessly into the soundtrack as he was the one playing it and whatever affected the guitar and him affected the music.

The World – The world is rich in this and the most fleshed out compared to any prior film. There is Immortan Joe and the Citadel, the Canyon Bikers, the Vultures, Bullet Farmer’s faction, the Mothers and others. It is a rich world so much at stake where in a moment the rest of the world could be destroyed by the factions seeking to survive or to destroy one another. This post-apocalyptic world leaves no room for hope yet in it hope is created through the healing and redemption of Max, Furiosa, Nux and the Wives. Within this world we see the Mothers who worship life countered by Immortan Joe and his cult of death where his drugged out warriors are taught that if they die for him they will be celebrated in Valhalla and live again.

The Characters – The characters are all rich and distinct and wonderful to see on the screen. I can’t think of anyone who did a horrible job as each character fit their role well and what happened to them changed relationship dynamics between factions and people. Whether it was Max no longer being guarded or the wives giving them all hope as each sought healing in their own way, each of protagonists was distinct and our villains were memorable too from their design to their horrendous actions and power.

The Wives – Angharad (Rosie Huntington-Whitely) is the leader of the wives and the who risks her own life to save Furiosa and Max. This causes conflict among the others but we see she was the one to get Max first beyond himself as she was risking herself and her child to make a better future and stop Joe. This is later picked up by Toast (Zoe Kravitz) and Cheedo (Courtney Eaton) who take part in the battle and help Nux to heal and find peace beyond his cult conditioning. They also struggle against their own desperation and find mentors in Furiosa and the Mothers who with their help and them taking the fight to Joe become the leaders of the Citadel and free the slaves.

Immortan Joe – Joe is a monster. He has a harem of breeder wives who he rapes and who he sets his army on because he sees them as his property. He has a great design with skull like teeth and tubes covering his lower face and we see that he has bought what he has sold his people. He believes he is a God and sings praises for his lost son when Angharad is killed when defending the War Rig. He cares nothing for the wives or his people and everything is for his glory and pride. Hugh Keays-Byrne does a fantastic job and his character is much more threatening than Toecutter who he played in the first “Mad Max” film. He’s developed a lot as an actor and he’s working with a far superior script.

The Mothers – The Mothers are awesome and are the group that Furiosa is a part of, sadly the world is gone and is now a toxic swamp but the Mothers still keep the seeds and give the wives peace that they have never had. They also fight to take the Citadel, with Valkyrie (Megan Gale) and Keeper of the Seeds (Melissa Jaffer) dying in the process. They are powerful and badass figures, riding motorcycles and covered in bullets. They adapted to the world around them and didn’t fall when the Green Land fell.

Max – Tom Hardy owns this role. He is clearly Max and like Gibson before him is the outcast pulled into situations out of his control where he comes in and acts as a protector and finally gives into hope before disappearing. In this we see him deal with his trauma and PTSD as the wives comfort him and Furiosa shares and understands his loss as we see her despair at everything she lost when Joe kidnapped and destroyed her family. They are similar and help each other heal by protecting the wives and in turn empowering them to fight. Much like past films though Max does not stick around as when the Citadel is free and Furiosa and the Wives are the leaders he leaves to continue his fight as the Road Warrior.

Nux – Nux is a War Boy who is devoted to Joe until he fails in capturing the War Rig and Max escapes. From here has to rethink everything which the wives help him to do. From here he becomes a hero and helps free the truck and in the end risks his life so that Joe’s forces will not retake the citadel. Nicholas Hoult does an amazing job. I really liked him as Beast in “Days of Future Past” and “First Class” but he is even better in this. His character drives the story as his redemption shows that even the broken can become more than their conditioning and even the most hated can be loved.

Furiosa – Furiosa is the primary protagonist and Charlize Theron owns this role. She’s the badass with the robotic arm who can take on multiple people at once but is still human and vulnerable. We see her break down when she learns the crow infested swamp was where the Green Land once was and her resolve when Max reminds them of the water at the Citadel and that they can still fight for the Green Land that does exist without traversing the unknown Wasteland. She is the one who keeps Max accountable too and trusts him even when he is holding a gun to her head and acting paranoid. She helps him find his humanity and he in turn saves her life with his blood as she had saved him multiple times. In the ends she ascends as leader of the Citadel and through her killing of Joe frees all the slaves of the Citadel arriving as it’s conqueror with the Wives now also as leaders.

The Struggle for Equality – This movie is all about the struggle for equality. Women and children are things and tools for Joe and he only sees how he can use others. It is the rebellion against that with the wives fighting for a better place and Furiosa seeking revenge for the Green Land Joe destroyed that help bring about freedom for every man, woman and child. There is sacrifice along the way too as Valkyrie, The Keeper of the Seeds, Angharad and the men who first traveled with Furiosa fall to the barbarians ruled by Joe or by selfishness who make up the Wasteland.

Healing and Redemption – Healing and redemption and their possibility is a major message and theme of this movie too. Nux is a thug but he is also just a boy who changes when his “daddy” leaves him behind and he realizes he was nothing to the man he saw as God. The wives help him to heal and accept him by only killing in self defense and he in turn fights for them because of their acceptance of him. He even is able to form relationships and fight for others and see Max as a human, not just a blood donor. Max and Furiosa find it through their shared pain and in it find hope, the hope that the wives always remind them of and the future they fight for…the unborn who don’t have to live in the hopeless world created by the monsters like Joe.

     I’ll be very surprised if I see a better film than this one this year. The soundtrack, cinematography, action, characters, world and story were all perfect and had a point beyond just explosions and cars. There was philosophy intertwined in the action and the actions that happen change characters and made them grow. This is what I think of when I think of the perfect film. The message is timeless the characters are amazing with Immortan Joe, Furiosa and Max being truly timeless. I can’t wait to see what George Miller does with the rest of the series he has planned. He didn’t come back to this series for 30 years, but when he did he made something that was truly memorable, powerful and unforgettable. I highly recommend this film.

Final Score: 10 / 10

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Noah (2014): The Meaning of Humanity

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We end the first Apocalypse Week with Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah.” This was a film I’ve been curious about for sometime since Aronofsky is one of my favorite directors and it really does have an all star cast, and the subject matter is interesting.

I’ve always been interested in mythology, whether it’s Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Greek, Norse, Egyptian or other…there are so many rich stories that have conflict and premises that are left pretty open ended giving a lot of creative leeway, assuming the director has vision. Aronofsky clearly did for this film.

The story is that after Abel was killed by Cain, Cain’s descendants spread throughout the world and over industrialized it the point of making it a wasteland while hunting down the descendants of Seth who saw it as their duty to protect the world. The story begins with Noah and his father Methuselah doing the ritual of Seth for caring for the Earth. They are than attacked by a tribe of Cain who attack Methuselah. Noah believes him dead and we flash forward. We than see Noah dealing with visions from “God” of the Earth being destroyed which sets the story in motion as Tubal-cain and his men attempt to take the arc and Noah’s wife Naameh and family try to save more of the line of Cain and humanity as Noah resists at every turn. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is fantastic, but I wouldn’t expect any less of Darren Aronofsky. Some of the moments that stand out though is when Noah tells the creation story and it shows us the creation of the universe and the evolution of life on the planet. The other scene is when the flood occurs and the descendants of Cain are destroyed as they fight the Watchers (fallen Angels defending Noah and his family).

The Music – Clint Mansell is one of my favorite composers and he does a great job creating tension in this film. We see this especially when Noah believes it is his duty to keep man from spreading so when Ila is pregnant he plans on killing her children if they are girls. The music has it set so that the ship feels claustrophobic and being trapped with a mad man (Noah). It is brilliantly done.

The Writing – The screenplay is top notch, Aronofsky and Handel did a great job. Every characters’ lines feels real and it does mostly showing rather than telling. Especially as Noah is facing the consequences of what he has done. We are presented with dilemmas. The Canaanites who are men are bad people trying to enslave and kill Noah and his family…but the women and children are innocent…and Noah does nothing to save them. His wife and Ham call him on this, but he ignores it, blinded by his religious devotion to a being who doesn’t speak clearly and maybe is all in his head. It is really awesome.

The Watchers – Giant Rock beings that were once angels who came to fight for humanity. These guys are cool. They start out resistant to Noah and his clan because of how Cain’s line turned on them but in the end fight for Noah as they are rewarded with being returned to Paradise and Noah and his family treat them kindness. They have great designs and good voice acting.

The Line of Seth – They are vegetarians and planters. Tenders of the garden of the world. Kind and only willing to fight as a last restort seems to the theme. They are survivors, but mostly because they know when to run.

The Line of Cain – These are the warriors. Anything weak is prey and the story is empire. In extreme cases they are cannibals because they’ve killed off most of the animals and hunted them to extinction. They are the apocalyptic survivors in the apocalyptic world they created.

The Characters – The characters in this film are really solid. No one is really wasted except for Noah’s son Shem who is mostly a passive character and is only there to protect Ila.

Methuselah – Anthony Hopkins is great as Methuselah. He is found to be alive after Noah receives some of the visions and gives Noah the magic seed that creates an oasis of life that Noah and the Watchers use to build the arc. He doesn’t go with them and dies in the flood after a moment of bliss when he finds a berry. Why he decides not to go is unknown. He seems to be there as a guide and a counter to Noah as he gives Ila the ability to have children when she was barren before.

Naameh – Jennifer Connelly supports Noah but always reminds him of life, which he mostly ignores if it isn’t animal and plant life. She sees the bigger picture and fights him when he plans to kill Ila’s twin girls. You can see how powerless she feels given that she’s expected and told to follow Noah, when Noah, especially when they are on the arc and before hand in how he saves no one else and has gone insane. You can see the trials she faces dealing with that. She is the one truly good person in the film.

Tubal-cain – Played by Ray Winstone, he is the primary antagonist outside of Noah. He is a king and believes that humans were made in God’s image in order to dominate rather than to care and create. He is the one who tries corrupting Ham and almost succeeds as he taps into Ham’s anger at his possible partner being left behind by Noah in Tubal-cain’s attack. He fights to the end and is a crafty and interesting foe. He is survival of the species in the most extreme sense, though his inability to see how in ancestors had destroyed all life is sadly missed. I wish that had been brought up in the many talks he had with characters.

Ham – Played by Logan Lerman, he is the character walking the line between the way of Cain and the way of Seth. In the end when they find land he chooses to go his own way. He wants to learn how to care, since all his actions are tied to his own wants and desires. He does this really well too and you can see why he hates Noah for a lot of the film.

Ila – Emma Watson is the most successful of the “Harry Potter” cast post “Harry Potter” and rightfully so. She is damn talented. We see that hear too where she was a survivor of an attack on the mine where her family was raising her and Noah and his wife take her in. She is barren and it implied she was cut as a child. Because of this she has a lot of fear connecting but is able to heal from literally and figuratively after speaking with Methuselah. She is a great character and defends her children to the end. It is her showing them their innocence that staves Noah’s hand.

Noah – Is he mad? This is the big question throughout the film. So much of the film you are left wondering if it is all just in Noah’s head as he thinks God wants to annihilate man completely given the near extinction of all life by many of Cain’s line. You can see where he is coming from too as miracles do happen throughout the film. The big issue is when the daughters are born and he has to break away from what he believes God’s message is. He believed God wanted them to restore the Garden, so after they help the animals all survive…they would die out. What he misses in his nihilism is that humans are part of the world too and it is only after accepts that that we see him deal with the guilt of letting the innocent Canaanites die and the fact that he nearly killed his grandchildren and planned on doing so for quite a while once he knew they would be born, and if they would be girls. Russell Crowe does this really really well. He is good at playing complex mad characters, which Noah is. We see him wrestle with his decisions and face the reality of his character relationships. He eventually becomes a drunk when they reach land once more but is brought out of it when he is reminded once more of life carrying on…showing that he has changed from the man he once was.

The Message – The message is dilemmas. Is humanity redeemable? What makes a civilization worth saving or not saving? What does it mean to be human? What responsibilities do we we have as human beings? This film deals with all of this and lets us make our own decision. Noah is not a good person, but he is a human being. It is through his eyes that we are shown the question and can judge Noah for the decisions he makes. This is powerful and makes the film truly a masterpiece.

I’m glad this is how Apocalypse Week ends. This is one of the greatest films I’ve watched, though I can see why so many were torn about it. The thing to remember is to take it on it’s own merits. Like all films it is a story and a good story at that. What message you choose to take from it is up to you as Daronofsky leaves it pretty open ended. He leaves the hope for us with Seth’s line surviving after the flood, but doesn’t say that the flood was Just. That is up to the viewer. The actors and actresses, cinematography, music and writing are phenomenal and I highly recommend to anyone looking for a great film based off fantasy and mythology that lets you find the meaning in it.

Final score is 10 / 10. Shem isn’t a great character, but he isn’t bad. None of the minor characters who don’t get exploration hurt the film in anyway.