War for the Planet of the Apes

war

There have been 2 films in 2017 that have brought to mind Spartacus: Blood and Sand, my favorite television series: Logan, the elegiac superhero swan song, and War for the Planet of the Apes, a stellar capping off to mainstream cinema’s most thoughtful and moving trilogies.

The show’s exploration of vengeance and forgiveness is truly fascinating, putting on display the “enormous darkness of the heart” that one of the apes mentions to Caesar (Andy Serkis) during the final installment. It is also an unforgiving look into the lives of slaves, and the horrors they are forced to commit for the sake of their masters. However, instead of being preachy it becomes insightful. In its final season, the slaves, now holding all of the power, start committing atrocities against innocents. They have excuses for it, of course, but should bloodshed ever be rationalized?

War for the Planet of the Apes seems like a fluke in the Hollywood blockbuster churning machine. For a movie with conflict in the title, there are only two battles: one at the beginning and one at the end, tremendous set pieces that brim with suspense and emotion from start to finish.
The film is more concerned with the struggle waged in men’s souls, that constant struggle between turning the other cheek and raining fire from the sky, between tolerance and dictatorship.
The human race did not lose the planet because of a few battles against monkeys, but because in the vital, deciding moment in which the trigger had to be pulled or not, the apes gave us another chance, but we did not return the favor.
And of what good is Earth if our spirit has turned dark? Nature has a way of correcting course, so the worthy ones will inherit the planet.

A

 

Inside Job

inside job

Two days ago, the mass murderers interviewed for The Look of Silence told the camera that no, they did not consider their atrocities to be crimes, that it was done in the name of the state, and that anybody in their position would do the same.

It is incredibly revealing about the state of human nature that Wall Street bankers rationalize their evil deeds the same exact way villagers from Indonesia justify their horrible actions.

I suggest anybody to watch both documentaries back to back.
It makes one think that beyond culture, beyond surroundings and diverse catalysts, there is something inherent inside all of humanity that is deeply rotten.
How lucky, and extraordinary, that we have a redeemer then.

B+

Paterson

paterson

Terrence Malick and the likes have accustomed me to think of film as poetic if it features any of the recognizable traits of the maestro-fluid camera movement, longing shots of nature, non-linear structure perhaps.
In Paterson, I discovered a new one.

This is a film that feels like contemplative verses, written on the backyard of a mortgaged home under the clouds of an entirely uneventful summer afternoon.

A-

Munich

munich

The tragedy of Steven Spielberg’s masterful Munich resides in the hearts of men. A Jew and a Palestinian are arguing about the necessity of armed conflict between its people in order for goodness to come out of it, when the Palestinian declares something along the lines of “In the end, it will all work out. It took Jews thousands of years to get a home, it will be the same for Palestine.” Avner Kauffman (Eric Bana) shoots down his reasoning.

Later in the movie, before Avner and his crew embark on a train ride to Holland, Avner turns to one of his men, who is displaying increasing signs of reluctance at all the killings they are doing, and says “Eventually, it will all end. What we are doing will be worth it.” But it is not only that Avner has turned into a version of the Palestinians he’s fighting against, or that the Palestinians have turned into the Jews they try to emancipate from; that would be too shallow a read, and Spielberg is too much a genius to leave it at that. The scene displays the incapacity for empathy that characters in the movie possess.

During the opening sequence, there is a perfect cut which delineates this idea. When the news broadcasts that all the Israeli hostages are alive, the action moves to the wives and families of the athletes, cheering with relief; the action then moves to a living room where the wives and families of the terrorists are gathered, which mourn the death of their loved ones once the news broadcast the death of all of them.

“This is what’s missing in the world”, Steven Spielberg tells us in that brief scene. “There is no peace at the end of this because the human heart doesn’t cut back and forth between both sides and realize that all of us weep”

A+

Prometheus

prometheus

Two of the classes I’m taking this semester overlap in such a way that I am regularly forced to ask myself the question that weighs heavily on the mind of the Prometheus’s crew: Why are we here? Where did we come from?
Anthropology posits that humanity evolved, throughout millions of years, from the proverbial ape, animals which in turned evolved from lesser creatures, and so on and so forth.
Philosophy, on the other hand, asks us to examine the cosmos. The flawless order of the universe, along with the intricate and meticulous working of the human body, demands for there to be a Creator.

In Prometheus, the ones who made us turn out to be the ones who also wish to destroy us. Reasons abound as to why. And yet, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) demands more. Nay, she says she deserves to know the origin of all things. The beauty lies in that she voices this statement to an android, a man-made creature that seems perfectly content with living out his destiny instead of asking questions in regard to it.
Twenty minutes into the movie somebody says that since the beginning of time human civilizations functioned under the idea that they are simply creation, and they seek to communicate with their Creator.

Is it the same today? Do we also feel as if we deserve to know everything simply because we are so very smart and enlightened? Do we also consider the Creator in human terms, and forget that if there is one, He must surely not abide by our puny rules and expectations?
In Prometheus, the crew gets the surprise of their lifetime when, upon finally encountering a creator, he starts to butcher them. In our case, will there be more of the former, the latter, or neither?

B

American Honey

american honey

Popular culture is deceiving. Perhaps it is no fault of its own, since massively consumed entertainment has to provide diversion for audiences; the deceit is implicit, so it is not meant to be taken too seriously. A quick glance at the current social landscape, however, indicate that celebrities and songs and Netflix originals hold as much sway over the cultural conversation as they probably never had before. Popular culture doesn’t become an escape, but a pep talk; something that inspires, teaches and sells dreams that will never come true.

In American Honey, as sultry and hypnotizing as films can be, the teenagers selling magazine subscriptions door to door across the American Midwest have more in common than just a fractured home life and a penchant for booze and sex. It seems that while their parents, or parent surrogates, were passing out drunk in couches and overdosing on crack, they were left in the care of movies and music, which proceeded to raise them. It is through these media that the itinerant life of mag crews acquires such seductive glow.

Not once does the film lay blame or judge the teens for the behaviors and actions they engage in. Just like Star (Sasha Lane) joined the crew to escape an abusive father figure, so does every other member in the team has a reason that makes their decision to join rational instead of delusional. And yet there is no happiness in the business. Everything the camera captures for close to three hours reeks of sadness and destruction; the decaying state of things mirrors the hopes of Star and everybody else. It is a document not only of the near depressing conditions of the hidden America, the segment that supposedly led Donald Trump to victory last November, but of the last throes of youth. Teens abandoned by everybody but popular culture, which instilled in them the idea that what they are doing is liberating, and that money is the ultimate indicator of success.

I mention this because the mag crew sings along to every single song that comes on during every leg of their journey. No matter the time or day or genre, everybody knows the lyrics to everything. But it is not only homeless teens whose dreams have been influenced by outside forces. The first house that Star visits is hosting a birthday party for a girl who cannot be more than fifteen years old. She is with three of her friends and a dance song begins blasting through the air, and the teens start to move along with the music, eventually putting their bodies in poses that are inappropriate for children their age. She is just following along with the song, she reasons with the screams of her God fearing mother.

“I hope He comes all over your car!”, shouts Star to a passerby vehicle that has “God is Coming” sticker plastered over the rear window, after it refused to slow down for her and her two half-siblings.
The anthem of the movie is “we found love in a hopeless place”, which works wonderfully with the hopelessness that infects the entire film. I really hope the sticker the car announced comes true, for I don’t see any other way for teens and adults to have real hope again.

A-

Manchester by the Sea

manchester

There’s a truly splendid scene that occurs near the end of the first act of Silver Linings Playbook, in which Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) invites Pat (Bradley Cooper) to have sex with her, cries upon his chest, slaps him and walks away in the span of about sixty seconds. The scene is etched into my memory for being a flawless depiction of how we process grief, and so is Jennifer Lawrence’s indelible performance.

Manchester by the Sea lasts two hours and seventeen minutes, and about a third of the running time is devoted to characters acting out, coping, and dealing with pain the same way Jennifer Lawrence did. But while David O’Russell’s picture featured silver linings, Manchester by the Sea is not interested in grand romantic gestures of hope, or in characters saving each other from their pits of despair.
But it also does not punish its audience by being bleak or depressing, the way some movies dealing with death tend to do.
Agony does not mean the absence of humor, so the movie has some of that; death does not entail the loss of carnal desire, so the movie features some of that as well; some traumas are too painful to overcome in a two hour picture, so Manchester by the Sea gives us a protagonist so miserable that he becomes the most human character I have seen at the cinema in a very long time.

A+

The Founder

founder

It must say something about the United States that its most important, influential firms got their start based on swindles.

At least as far as film adaptations go, The Social Network, Steve Jobs, and now The Founder have portrayed these titans of industry as dishonest and power hungry, but also super humanly brilliant.

This begs the question: Is success on a global scale dependent on the dismissal of commonly respected values as truth and loyalty?
Or, as a character in the superb Steve Jobs says, is it binary? Can you be gifted and decent at the same time, or does one cancel the other?

Because The Founder is the weakest of the three films, it doesn’t point to that argument being the case, but a general look into the lives of the geniuses these movies explore paints a bleak image to all the fools who bank on morality getting them very far.

B

Oldboy

oldboy

Because this was the movie recommended to me after having so thoroughly enjoyed Memento, I will make a brief compare and contrast between two pictures.

Is revenge bad?
Characters in both films employ revenge not as means to satisfy their baser desires, but as catalysts to not give up on life. This impulse has so consumed their lives that they do not live for it, as much as they live because of it.
In Memento, Lenny (Guy Pearce) has to keep chasing John G’s until the end of his days, or else he’ll be forced to face the truth of having killed his wife and lost his mind.
In OldBoy, the minute there are no more strings to pull on the elaborate punishment he’s been putting his victim through, Woo-Jin (Yoo Ji-Tae) shoots himself in the head.

Another aspect in which both films are similar is in how the main characters differ from the usual protagonist audiences have come to expect. While not always noble, main protagonists must possess some traits that should make the distinction between them and the bad guys very clear, so it becomes more easy to cheer for them.
In Memento, Lenny is a thief and a murderer, not to mention an asshole; in OldBoy, Dae-Su (Choi Min-Sik) is guilty of less heinous accusations, but he is still a drunkard, a womanizer and a lousy father. Even after repenting from past sins, he does not become the hero of the story. The showdown at the penthouse, which is like nothing I’ve ever seen, shows him as a pitiful excuse for a man. Indeed he will later call himself no better than a wild beast.

Is this why both movies are so wildly effective? Or maybe we have become so accustomed to heroes that are hard to emulate but easy to admire, that when confronted with characters that display some of our worst flaws we tend to cheer them, since we might find ourselves more easily resembled in desires of vengeance than in acts of forgiveness.

Both films end on a dark note. Lenny will go on in search of the next John G, or be tricked into killing another person who he thinks is guilty for what happened to him. Dae-Su has either forgotten the horrific truth that forced him to rip out his tongue, or he has not.
Whatever the case, they will be living a lie. That’s a terrible final image for the audience to take home with. It has been said that movies are the myths of our time.
I hope that after watching Memento and OldBoy, audiences tremble at the idea of what may happen when forgiveness is not an option.

A+

Hell or High Water

hell-or-high-water-filming-locations-poster

One week after the election that saw Donald J. Trump chosen as the 45th President of the United States, me and my two best friends took a road trip from California to North Carolina.

We drove across miles and miles of barren landscape. We passed through ghost towns, more deserted than the ones that make up the heart of Hell or High Water. We heard stories, sad stories, about poverty encroaching entire regions and turning its inhabitants poor in a nation that is the richest in the world.

The magnificent Hell or High Water is not only a Western, but a document on the extinction of a way of life. You see it with the cowboys running from a fire, driving their cattle to safety across the highway.
“No wonder my kids don’t want to do this as a living”, one of them yells at no one particular.
You see it with the waitress who refuses to give up her tip, made up of stolen bank money, because otherwise she will not be able to afford her mortgage and keep a roof on top of her daughter’s head.
You even see it with bank robbers themselves, when an old diner patron mentions that robbing banks in the 21st century seems entirely out of place.

The film appears to indict the capitalist financial institutions of the United States, who have been given carte blanche to wager with other peoples money, and don’t have to worry about losing it because uncle Sam will bail them out. But who is behind the banks, if not people themselves?

One of the character bemoans the fact that the land they are on used to belong to his ancestors before conquistadors arrived and slaughtered them all. He then says the same thing is happening to small towns across the country, but this time violence is not the culprit, but greed.

Near the end of the film, an old bank worker is reluctant to fax some documents over to a lawyer. The documents state that the loan the bank had given out has been paid in full just in time, so the property will remain in the client’s possession.
Why does the old man do this? What does he gain, besides maybe a bonus for delaying the proceedings? The property, and all the oil on it, will not go to him, but to an unknown person, or group of people, who thrive to make money.
So perhaps it is not the banks that are to blame, but every single human being who would choose money over culture, profit over dignity.
Foreclosures rise, despair sets in, and people end up voting for the billionaire who promises to make their sad, pathetic little towns great again.

A+