Movies: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

…written by Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffra, and Amanda Silver; directed by Matt Reeves; starring Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, and Toby Kebbell.  And some really good CGI guys…

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is one of the better sci-fi dramas we’ve seen lately.  Set in a post-infectious disease event world, with the vast majority of humans having succumbed to the simian virus in the previous movie, the film rightly begins with the apes.  They are, after all, the stars of this show.

Caesar (Serkis) and the other apes have built a thriving hunter-gatherer civilization outside the ruins of San Francisco – and we quickly learn they have language (written, spoken, and sign), specialized roles, laws, and yes, politics.  They’ve seen no humans in years (and are happy about this) when a human blunders into an ape hunting party and promptly shoots one of the apes.

Turns out, the survivors of San Francisco are running low on fossil fuels, so they’ve traveled out to the apes’ forests in an attempt to get the old hydroelectric dam working.  But Caesar’s having none of it.  He rallies the apes, who converge upon the humans and let them know they need to stay in the city and leave the forest to the apes.

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Movies: The Dark Knight Rises

…based on Bob Kane’s Batman, written by Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan, and David Goyer, directed by Christopher Nolan, starring Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Tom Hardy.

The Dark Knight Rises, the third installment of the Nolan brothers’ take on the Batman Mythos, has been criticized and praised alike with heavy-handed gusto by media and culture critics.  You’ll hear how it’s violent, bleak, self-indulgent.  It’s epic, intricate, spectacularly visual.  Dark Knight Rises is guilty of all.  The film also carries considerable baggage: the crazy expectations that seem to accompany any Chris Nolan project, the legacy of the last film, the Dark Knight, which receives too much credit for a number of reasons, not to mention carrying the standard for the entire DC Comics/Warner Brothers line.  A crushing weight, Man-of-Steel worthy.

And Batman and the Nolans are up for it.  This is an awesome film.  Awesome in its most literal sense.  DKR pushes the boundaries of super-hero/anti-hero narrative.  It engages in multi-layered, multi-generational story telling.  It takes this version of Batman – a contemporary characterization that still retains the essential elements – breaks him down, examines his ethos, and brings him back from the brink.  Visuals, performances, character arcs – its’ all there.  The movie is a cut or two above…

And DKR does not achieve this in a vacuum.  Nolan and company employ a secret weapon (that’s not so secret to comic book fans):  years and years of great Batman stories from DC Comics, including Knightfall, which introduced the Bane character, but most importantly the great Frank Miller treatise, The Dark Knight Returns.

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AMC Goes West

AMC seems to have taken a cue from the HBO playbook.  They keep producing quality television.  The Walking Dead has resumed – one of our favorite current TV series – and we’ve had the chance to catch up on another AMC  show: Hell on Wheels.  They ran a marathon of the series on New Year’s Day, which we recorded and have been watching, and I’m here to report it’s worth seeking out.

Hell on Wheels is set on the frontier after the Civil War – western Iowa, where the Union Pacific Railroad pushes towards the Rockies.  The show is about that westward push of steel, sweat, and blood, as United States sought figurative and literal unity.  It’s a Western to be sure, drawing on the conventions and tropes of that genre to fine effect.

Anson Mount plays Bohannon, a former Confederate outrider who has come west for vengeance.  We quickly learn Bohannon’s wife was murdered by a squad of Union soldiers during Sherman’s March, and now he’s tracking them down one-by-one.  He quickly earns a place on the railroad crew as cover for his quest.  Bohannon is your classic Western lead – he’s been wronged and he’s out to right that wrong, but he also has a sense of fairness and honor to redeem him. Continue reading

Fall Movies

It’s that time of year, with the temps dropping, the leaves starting to turn, and the cinema offerings a little less popcorn and a little more mature.  You usually get a few decent horror movies this time of year, and maybe something with a little Oscar buzz.  You may also find those really good films that they weren’t sure how to market, so they didn’t try to pack them into the busy summer schedule.

So here are five fall movies we’re looking foward to…

  • The Thing (Oct 14) This one is being plugged as a prequel to the John Carpenter/Kurt Russell classic version that scared the living crap out of me when I was 10 or 11.  Gave me nightmares for weeks.  The trailer looks scary as hell.  Will I be able to talk the wife into a horror film this fall?  We shall see.
  • Anonymous (Oct 28) No, it’s not about annoying hackers; it’s alternative history that posits some of William Shakespeare’s plays as attributable to the Earl of Oxford, and throws in some 16th century political thriller for good measure.  The cast has impressive British types; Roland Emmerich directs.  Color us curious.
  • In Time (Oct 28) Saw this preview last month for a sci-fi thriller by Andrew Niccol (Gattaca, The Truman Show).  The central premise concerns immortality and eternal youth, for those who can afford it, but you have to work your ass off to bank the time – so relative age becomes the central currency.  Looks weird and intriguing.  Starring Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried.
  • J. Edgar (Nov 11) Clint Eastwood directs Leo DiCaprio in the title role.  What else do you need?  Should be a fascinating take on the Godfather of the FBI.  How far will Clint and Co. delve into the controversial purported practices and, ahem, alternative behaviors of Hoover?
  • The Muppets (Nov 23) In Beemsville, we love us some muppets.  It’s been awhile since anyone has seen Kermit, Fozzie, Miss Piggy and company on the big screen.  If you check the cast list, it’s pretty impressive.  Looking forward to taking the family to this one.

Thoughts on Caprica

And now back to the more standard blogging…

Finally finished our backlog of Caprica on the DVR this weekend; the show ended its current run on ‘SyFy’ back in March.  It kept us engaged and interested, though it’s not on the same level as Battlestar Galactica. Developed by Ronald Moore and David Eick, the creative team behind BSG, and set about 50 years before the BSG series, Caprica shares many of the same traits as its predecessor.  A very strong cast, featuring Esai Morales as Joseph Adama (father of Admiral Bill Adama), Eric Stoltz as billionaire tech developer Daniel Graystone, Paula Malcomson as Dr. Amanda Graystone (Daniel’s wife), and Alessandra Torresani as Zoe Graystone (Daniel and Amanda’s sort-of dead daughter), distinct visual style and set production, good musical score, and lots of contemporary allegory on themes such as religion, terrorism, materialism, and technology.

The pilot sets up the main plotlines with monotheist terrorists (you may remember that in the BSG world, most of the people are polytheists, while the Cylons believed in the one true god) blowing up a commuter train with the help of some disillusioned wealthy kids.  Among their cell is Zoe Graystone, who is a technical whiz and the daughter of Daniel, one of Caprica’s most powerful industrialists.  Also on the train – Joseph Adama’s wife and teen-aged daughter, Tamara.  Joesph and Daniel strike up an acquaintance and commiserate.  But it turns out, their daughters aren’t really dead.  How’s that?  On Caprica, one of the main forms of entertainment is virtual reality (complete with VR goggle-type headware), and Zoe has figured out how to upload her memories and traits to the grid.  It’s the old Ghost in the Machine trick, straight out of Neuromancer. Somehow, Zoe gets this done and pulls along Tamara Adama in the process, right before the train blows up. Continue reading

Highest Video Rec: The Wire

Last weekend we finished the final episode of the last season of HBO’s The Wire.  What a great show.  I know we’re not exactly breaking new ground here, and the series has been off the air for a while, but I thought I would go ahead and post it here:  highest video recommendation for grown-up drama.  And in the era of home-DVD video, it’s easy and well worth your while to check out the entire five-season run.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a fan of crime/police drama or just someone interested in excellent storytelling, if you’re willing to deal with some sad truths, some depressing reflections of reality, you also get first-rate characterization, multifaceted narratives, and just plain compelling drama. Continue reading