Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Planet of the Apes


  This is undeniably a classic movie. However with all the advances in technology since freakin' 1968, I think it's safe to say it'd be hard pressed to find an accepting audience in today's world. The movie is a good one, no doubt. Full of wide-eyed spectacle, some thrilling set pieces, and some really good acting. Planet of the Apes is also unfortunately, criminally dated. I can't imagine the youth of today not laughing at the incredibly stilted ape prosthetics. Which could alienate whole audiences. I can't say I grew up with this movie, I first saw it when I was 12 or 13. Which was only 6 or 7 years ago. Yet, I loved it. I took it seriously. I was capable of appreciating what it was, and when it came from. Thus, I enjoyed it alot.

  Sci-fi spectacle nowadays, outside of the indie market, usually has someone like Will Smith heading it, and David Goyer behind the scenes somewhere. While this isn't necessarily bad, I believe that most science fiction movies nowadays, have lost their sense of grandeur and scale, and most certainly their sense of importance. My point is honestly that Sci-Fi has become a genre all about special effects. Which is why a modern audience might very well reject Planet of the Apes on it's own merit. It's not impressive compared to anything we have nowadays. Not visually at least. And while I do believe it was certainly ahead of it's time for the 60's, it's no longer that advanced anymore.

  However, if you can appreciate older movies without judging them next to today's standard, then you might enjoy Planet of the Apes. A movie so indelibly ingrained into society and pop culture that we're still making movies in the franchise. (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is coming out in 2014 as a sequel to 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a rather successful reboot.)  However there is more to 'Apes than the makeup effects and prosthetics. The movie has a sense of old school charisma. Due in no small part to star Charlton Heston (playing the eponymous 'Taylor). He plays off of his co-stars wonderfully. Kim Hunter and Roddy McDowall are simply wonderful as the benevolent apes, Zira and Cornelius. Who also seem to be the only ones on Heston's side in this freakish world.

  For the sake of anyone who hasn't seen Planet of the Apes, it's about a team of astronauts who're sent into deep space, looking for another habitable world I believe. Yet, thousands of years have passed while they were in hypersleep and they crash land on a foreign planet... that is ruled by apes. Walking, talking, apes.  With their own laws and society, and everything. Humans also exist on this planet, yet they can't articulate any better than a primate you might find at your local zoo. So imagine the shock when the apes are confronted with this man who can articulate as well as any of them. The catch? His throat, and subsequently his vocal chords, were injured early on. Which conveniently prevents him from speaking for most of the movie. Yet when he finally does... hot damn. There's a reason why that line is so iconic. Heston's delivery is as chilling now as it was back in 1968.

  The movie is pretty exciting in my opinion, and some actually criticize it's pacing, saying it's rather slow for today's audiences. I think everything is too slow for today's audiences. I don't think that's a valid critique to level at the movie. The movie opens with a spaceship crash landing on the planet, then the astronauts have to traverse the alien terrain and end up smack in the middle of a hunt, in which apes on horseback, with guns, are violently pursuing a herd of wild humans. The movie then settles in to it's main plot, which is Taylor trying to convince the apes that he's not from this world. He's faced with execution and being lobotomized around every corner. He stages multiple escape attempts, and in the end is granted a small iota of leeway to prove his statements which culminates in another skirmish, and concludes with a most shocking ending. Which despite being plastered all over posters and box art, is still quite shocking in context.

  In conclusion, if your idea of good sci-fi is the Star Wars prequels or i,Robot... then it's a good possibility you won't enjoy Planet of the Apes. However, if you are someone who enjoys the original Star Trek TV series, and movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, then yes, odds are you'll have a blast with this movie.

No One Lives


  I expected nothing more than a simple revenge flick. Maybe one of those highway thrillers with the band of deranged rednecks who hunt a simple couple to the point of a psychotic break. It's a good thing I watch movies now with next to no knowledge about them, because this movie blind sided me... and trust me, that's a good thing. With a serviceable cast, headed up by the fantastic Luke Evans, and a story full of great twists and turns, No One Lives elevates itself above and beyond a run of the mill splatterfest and becomes a rather great movie.

  I'll give you the basic shakedown of the plot. If the back of the DVD tells you any more, than whoever wrote it should be shot. Preferably by Luke Evans while he stands there looking like a badass. Anyways, the movie is about a group of criminals whose latest haul of ill gotten gain has to be abandoned for their own safety. Looking to make up for their losses, they decide to hijack the trailer, "containing all their worldly possessions..." of a couple who is moving to a new state. Suffice it to say, they did not know who they were fucking with. Seriously. The movie reels you in, in it's first half with a daunting atmosphere and some good acting by Luke Evans and his lovely counterpart. However, you're 110% hooked by the time shit starts getting crazy.

  I will say this though, the major plot twist will instantly land you in one of two categories. One, you're completely alienated. You'll likely be disgusted with the movie and find little reason to keep watching. Two, you find this twist brilliant and can't wait for the inescapable bloodbath to ensue. I can't tell you what the twist is, but your enjoyment of this movie will definitely hinge on it. This movie does not offer a clear cut protagonist. This is not the revenge flick of ye olden days. Despite the fact this has a definite exploitation sensibility about it, it's not a movie where it's easy to find the good guy and just cheer for him. You'll see why, because I wholeheartedly suggest you watch this movie. I thought it was great.

  It's equal parts slasher flick and action flick. It's impossible (provided the twist didn't turn you off) to not have a blast with this movie. Luke Evans is amazing in the role and I think he deserves way more notice for it. I thought he was a serviceable villain in Fast & Furious 6, but here his character is brought to live in such a way... it's just fantastic. The movie is not without it's fair share of shortcomings, but with all the points it's earning for sheer creativity, it's hard to fault it something serious. Also, major props go to Adelaide Clemens, who plays possibly the one balls to bone protagonist here. She holds her own in a boys club full of heavy hitting acting and some serious dramatic shit.  She may be playing a damsel in distress (of sorts) but if so, she's the kind that would make Ellen Ripley proud. 

  She's definitely a smart girl, and a fighter. She wasn't the typical wood chipper fodder that runs about in the woods until some hockey masked maniac machetes her in half. I actually liked this girl's gusto, her drive to survive was measurable in more than just how shrill and loud her scream was. Early on, she's running away from someone/something, and she cuts her foot on some glass. Rather than roll over like a wounded puppy, she pulls a motherfucking John McClane, yanks the glass out, wraps her foot, and keeps fucking running. It was then and there I knew I liked her character, and also when I knew I was in for a treat with this movie. I'm happy to say she didn't get shafted by the ending, something which horror movies seem fond of doing to their protagonists more often than not.

  Her and Luke Evans' character play off of each other brilliantly although they don't come face to face until the last act, their dynamic has been building up the whole movie, and when you see it, it sizzles. The movie has a snappy energetic pacing that kept my attention glued to screen the whole time. This may not be a typical popcorn flick, but if you roll with the punches it's so much fun. It's a gory grindhouse of a good time and I recommend it to anyone whose interest is even remotely piqued by this review. See it! 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Poltergeist


  I have nobody to blame except myself for not having seen this sooner. This Spielberg/Hooper movie is actually fantastic. I've been on a roll with classic horror movies I've never seen before, this was definitely on my list to finally watch. After going through Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist, The Shining, and Halloween (all of which have reviews pending) I took a break to work on some video reviews. Still haven't published those reviews yet, but I saw Poltergeist last night and felt it was perfect to start off this trend with. The 80's as anyone can tell you is my favorite era for movies. Movies from that era pretty much dominate my favorites list, so I was starting to feel weird that I'd never seen some of these. Boy I was missing a lot of fun. There might be some mild spoilers ahead for anyone who hasn't seen it. Fair warning.

  Poltergeist eases you into the story with this middle-class, all-American family going about their daily routine. The young boy has Star Wars posters on his wall, the little girl plays with toy dolls and ponies, the teenage daughter stays up all night on the phone, and goes out with friends. The parents of course are rarely granted reprieve from their kids. One little thunderstorm and half the family climbs into mom and dad's bed.
So it's a very typical sight. However, it's also a welcome one that never directly descends into cliche.
They seem like a very loving family and they're instantly endearing. They're in for quite the shitstorm though.

  As it turns out the developers the dad works for built the entire neighborhood over old burial ground and the spirits are pissed off. They start messing with this family's house. Small things at first. Objects slide across the floor by themselves. Chairs stack themselves when nobody is looking. Voices communicate with the little girl through the TV and she states, rather iconically: "They're heeeere!" It's a very unnerving moment despite having seen it out of context only a hundred times. However, things begin to escalate. Another thunderstorm hits, and the creepy tree outside smashes through a window and pulls the boy out... and begins to eat him. Things go crazy all over and it's sheer chaos.

  The special effects on display, while a few decades old, hold up VERY well. I believe that special effects main purpose are to help the story tell it's tale without getting in the way or distracting from it. The effects in Poltergeist do just that. They seamlessly blend into the narrative, heightening the scare factor exponentially. Some older movies aren't so lucky, (i.e. ED-209 in RoboCop) when you see an effects heavy scene, sometimes it's so jarring the only thing you can think is "oh look, a special effect." Thankfully that disconnect never occurs in this movie.

  At one point in the movie, the family has a team of paranormal investigators over. The trio boasts about having seen a toy car move across a linoleum surface, by itself, over a period of... seven hours. The dad's reaction is priceless, right before he shows them a whole room of objects swirling around and being animate all by themselves. Again, more priceless reactions. A lesser movie would've had the trio of paranormal investigators run out of the house, screaming. Usually when paranormal investigators show up in movies, they're crackpot hacks with an agenda, and almost ALWAYS out of their league. Thankfully, these characters didn't fall into cliche like that. They stick around and despite being way out of their depth, they make every effort to assist the family in every way they can. This trio of characters was pretty great like that. They seemed like people genuinely interested in helping. Not just making money or something. That was refreshing.

  The special effects only get bigger and better as the story careens towards it's impressive and gut wrenching climax. In my humble opinion, 90% of any effective horror movie is good acting. Even a movie with outstanding special effects can be reduced to pseudo-parody by shoddy acting. Safe to say, this movie was excellent acting from all the actors. Special credits to the mom who went through some crazy shit in this movie. Also, I've always felt the stakes in anything are raised when kids are involved. You don't mess with parents and their kids. Threaten their kids, and they'll brave demons and hell itself to protect them. It's amazingly emotional. It's also why Aliens is one of my all time favorite movies. The trio of main characters, Ripley, Newt, and Hicks, form a sort of makeshift family unit. Forged together under the fire of survival. It works so well in almost any movie where the actors are up to it. Poltergeist is no exception. Fighting to save the lives of your kids is always more intense than fighting to save your own life. There's something about that which takes Poltergeist to the next level, managing to be a thoroughly effective, moving, funny, and scary horror movie despite it's PG rating.  I've seen R rated horror movies that were nowhere near this stirring.

  Great movie.