WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017) – The Best of The New APES Movies

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war_for_the_planet_of_the_apes_poster

The new PLANET OF THE APES series keeps getting better and better.

RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011) was an okay reboot, solid yet uninspiring. Its sequel DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014) was better. I liked it but I didn’t love it.

Now comes WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017) a thoroughly engrossing tale that is equal parts futuristic science fiction, epic adventure, and prisoner of war drama. All three parts work well to comprise a story that is captivating from start to finish, so much so, that this third film is clearly the best entry of the series thus far.

Of course, it helps to have a talented director at the helm.  Matt Reeves, who also directed DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, is one of the more talented directors working today. He’s directed some of my favorite horror movies in recent years, films like CLOVERFIELD (2008) and LET ME IN (2010), and now WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES. I only wish he’d make more movies.

When WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES opens, we find Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his band of apes still hiding in the woods, still trying to avoid the humans who are out to conquer them.  This time around, the advancing human military is led by a charismatic officer known as The Colonel (Woody Harrelson).

A small military unit locates the apes and attack, but they are defeated.  Caesar spares the lives of a couple of prisoners and sends them back as a peace-offering, but this doesn’t stop the Colonel, who returns and raids the apes’ camp, killing Caesar’s wife and son.

Found out, the apes have to move, but Caesar announces that he’s not accompanying them, as he is intent on finding and killing the Colonel.   Eventually, all the apes, Caesar included, are captured by the Colonel’s forces, setting the stage for the second half of the movie, which plays out as a riveting prisoner of war tale, where the apes attempt to plan a daring escape, even as another military contingent moves in, one that is at odds with the Colonel and plans on wiping out all the occupants at the base, including the apes.

There is so much to like about WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES.  I liked how Caesar evolved here.  In the first film, he barely spoke, saying one word here, one word there. In the second film, he spoke more, but not entirely fluently.  Here, he speaks effortlessly, which makes him an even stronger character.

The storyline of the disease which wiped out humans and gave intelligence to apes continues to evolve in this movie and remains compelling.  This time around, we learn that the disease is changing, that the remaining humans are gradually losing the ability to speak, and are slowly becoming more beast-like, while the apes are becoming more intelligent.  This plot point hearkens back to the original series, where apes were intelligent, and humans were mute animals.

We first get a hint of this change when Caesar and friends find a young girl (Amiah Miller) who cannot speak.  Orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval) eventually names her Nova, in a nod to the Linda Harrison character from the 1968 original film PLANET OF THE APES.

And more apes than just the ones with Caesar were affected, as they meet another chimpanzee who goes by the name Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) and who tells them his story.

There are a lot of nods to the original series here.  The soldiers wear the symbols for Alpha and Omega on their helmets, which is a nod to the Alpha/Omega bomb which destroyed the Earth in BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (1970).  The line is used, “the only good ape is a dead ape,” which is a reference to General Ursus’ line “The only good human is a dead human,” also from BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES.

Again, there’s the character of Nova, and I liked how they came up with the name, as she finds a grille from a Chevy Nova.  Also, when Maurice says her name, “Nova,” he says it the same way and with the same cadence as Charlton Heston said it in BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES, so much so that I wonder if they dubbed in Heston’s voice here.

Speaking of Maurice, his name is a nod to the actor Maurice Evans who played the orangutan Dr. Zaius in the original films.  And Caesar’s little son is named Cornelius, who was the character played by Roddy McDowall in the original films, and in those films Cornelius was Caesar’s father.

There are also just some funny monkey references. The back of one of the soldier’s helmets reads BEDTIME FOR BONZO, a reference to the Ronald Reagan movie, a comedy which featured a chimpanzee. Also, the apes who work for the Colonel are called “donkeys,” a reference to Donkey Kong.

The special effects are amazing. The apes look phenomenal. They’re so good it’s easy to forget that nearly every character in this movie is a CGI creation.  The only main human character is Woody Harrelson’s Colonel, and the rest of the humans are nameless soldiers, and yet the film doesn’t suffer for it at all. You don’t watch this movie and feel like you’re watching an animated cartoon.  These characters seem genuine and real, more so than some of the human characters we see in other movies.  And their story is compelling.  You really do feel for the apes and want them to escape from the prison.

Andy Serkis, who’s become the king of motion capture performances, is excellent once again here as Caesar. I don’t think they give Oscars yet for this category, but if they did, he should get one.  And he’s not alone here.

Both Karin Konoval as Maurice and Terry Notary as Caesar’s other loyal friend Rocket have also been in all three APES movies, and they’ve been excellent each time as well.  Also of interest, both Serkis and Notary have played King Kong.  Serkis played Kong in the Peter Jackson remake KING KONG (2005), and Notary played Kong in KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017).

Two newcomers also really stand out.  Steve Zahn as Bad Ape nearly steals the movie with his humorous and touching performance as the ape who had survived on his own all these years before meeting Caesar and his band of apes.  The best part about Bad Ape is that he’s funny without being annoying, and he’s scared without being a coward.  He steps up when needed.

Likewise, young Amiah Miller is superb as Nova, in a role that is even more impressive considering she doesn’t speak any lines as Nova cannot talk.  Her scenes with Caesar are especially moving.  Once Nova and then Bad Ape enter the storyline, the film really takes off.  Miller reminded me somewhat of a very young Amanda Seyfried.

And Woody Harrelson does what he has to do as the evil Colonel.  The role isn’t as fleshed out as the apes’ characters, but it doesn’t really need to be.  He’s the villain, and Harrelson gives the guy real presence, so much so that things always feel disturbing when he’s on-screen. And we do get some background on him, as we learn what happened to his son.

The script by Mark Bomback and director Reeves is excellent.  I loved the story it tells, and the ape characters are all fleshed out to the point where you forget you’re watching CGI creations.  I especially liked the story, which is essentially divided into three parts. The first part picks up where DAWN left off, and features apes and humans battling in the jungle.  The second part becomes an epic adventure, where the apes migrate from the jungle, and where Caesar and his small band of friends go off on their own across beaches and eventually into a wintry mountain terrain as they seek out the Colonel.  It’s this sequence where they find Nova and meet Bad Ape.

And then there’s the third part, the gripping grueling prisoner of war tale, where Caesar must lead the apes on a daring escape.  This part plays like the classic war movies of yesteryear, films like STALAG 17 (1953) and THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963).  With each chapter of the story, the film gets stronger, as each story is better than the previous one.

I’m a huge Matt Reeves fan, and he does a phenomenal job here.  His films CLOVERFIELD and LET ME IN are among my favorite horror movies period.  WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES now joins that list.  Of course, the true test for Reeves is his next movie, as he’s writing and directing the upcoming THE BATMAN, the standalone Batman film starring Ben Affleck. Good luck, Matt!

And WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES features yet another powerful music score by Michael Giacchino, who we just talked about last week as he scored SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017).  I liked his score for APES here even better than his SPIDER-MAN score.  It reminded me a lot of the score he wrote for LET ME IN.  It’s potent, militaristic, and haunting.

I really liked WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES. Everything about it works.

It’s easily the best of the rebooted APES series.

—END—

 

 

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STOCKING STUFFERS 2014: Gifts I’d Like to Find Under My Tree This Year

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"I hope you like my gift, Larry.  I picked it out of the graveyard myself."

“I hope you like my gift, Larry. I picked it out of the graveyard myself.”

STOCKING STUFFERS – 2014

Gifts I’d Like to Find Under My Tree This Year

By

Michael Arruda

 

Here are a few horror movie goodies that I’d like to find under my Christmas tree this year, in no particular order:

 

-A newly discovered unedited complete version of KING KONG (1933) including the infamous lost “spider in the pit” sequence.  Sorry folks, this still hasn’t been discovered yet and as of right now only exists in our collective imaginations.

 

-For the recently restored unedited version of HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) to be made available here in the United States.  This one does exist, but no sign of it in the U.S. yet.  What’s the hold up???

 

-A boxed set of all the Universal monster movies with long lost scenes restored, including Bela Lugosi’s scenes of dialogue as the Frankenstein Monster in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943), Dwight Frye’s extended scenes as Karl in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), and the original cut of THE WOLF MAN (1941) where Lon Chaney’s Larry Talbot only becomes a werewolf in his own mind.

 

-A horror movie with Johnny Depp in a serious role instead of the over-the-top goofy roles he’s been taking of late.  It’s as if he’s quit being Depp and instead has adopted the persona of Jack Sparrow from the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, and it’s Sparrow making all these recent films like DARK SHADOWS, THE LONE RANGER, and INTO THE WOODS, not Depp.

 

-More horror films with Chloe Grace Moretz.  She was phenomenal in LET ME IN (2010) and pretty darn good in the re-boot of CARRIE (2013) as well.  And the best part?  Chloe Grace Moretz is not a scream queen!  She’s a force to be reckoned with.

 

-Speaking of LET ME IN, how about some more horror movies by director Matt Reeves?  He’s directed two of the best horror movies in the past decade, CLOVERFIELD (2008) and LET ME IN (2010), not to mention the excellent DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014).  He’s one of the most talented genre directors working today.

 

-Speaking of CLOVERFIELD, how about the long awaited sequel which has been rumored for years finally coming out?  That would be nice.

 

-A reversal in the decision to turn the Universal monsters into superheroes.  The powers that be at Universal are making a huge mistake here.  To me, this decision is a concession that these monsters are no longer scary, and that’s simply not true.  All it takes is a good writer, combined with a talented director, and these monsters could be relevant again.  Don’t bother remaking the origin stories- we all know them.  What we need are new tales of these monsters in frightening horror movies which will scare modern audiences to death.  Leave the superheroes to Marvel!

 

-Speaking of Marvel, I’d like to see Robert Downey, Jr. in a horror movie.  Scarlett Johansson too, for that matter.

 

-Speaking of people making horror movies, Woody Allen made his decision to move on from comedies years ago and continues to churn out quality films year after year.  I sure wish he’d channel his keen writing talents and write a horror tale someday.  I think it would be pretty cool.

 

-Lastly, to all my writer friends, I’d like to find a copy of your latest book under my tree so I could read your work throughout the year.  My Christmas wish for all of us is that we have books in print year after year for years to come!

 

Thanks all!

 

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, happy winter!

Thanks for reading!

 

—Michael

 

 

 

 

PICTURE OF THE DAY: LET ME IN (2010)

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What happens when Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz) enters her friend's home without being invited first, in LET ME IN (2010).

What happens when Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz) enters her best friend Owen’s home without being invited first, in LET ME IN (2010).

PICTURE OF THE DAY:  LET ME IN (2010)

 

Here’s a still from LET ME IN (2010), the exceptional vampire movie by director Matt Reeves.

LET ME IN is a remake of the Swedish horror movie LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008), and both these films are excellent.  I found LET ME IN just as good as LET THE RIGHT ONE IN.

LET ME IN tells the story of a young boy Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) bullied at school who develops a close friendship with a mysterious young girl Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz) who recently moved into the apartment next door.  It turns out, Abby is a vampire.

The best part of LET ME IN is that the true horror in this one is the way Owen is bullied at school, and the story is set up so that in spite of the horrible things we see Abby do as a vampire, we’re actually rooting for her to survive so she can help Owen with his bully problem.

There are also many wonderful tender moments in this one, and this photo is from one of my favorite scenes in the movie.  Abby tells Owen she can’t enter his apartment unless he invites her inside.  When Owen doesn’t do this, as he’s not sure he believes her, she enters anyway.  Once inside, she begins to bleed profusely.  Seeing this, Owen rushes to her immediately and hugs her, repeatedly telling her she’s invited.  It’s an emotional and touching moment in the film, in a movie that is full of moments like this one.

LET ME IN was the comeback film for England’s Hammer Films, and it’s directed by one of the best genre directors working today, Matt Reeves, who also directed CLOVERFIELD (2008) and DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014).  It also has an excellent cast, including its two talented young leads, Chloe Grace Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee.

If you haven’t seen LET ME IN, you’re missing quite a treat.  Even though it’s about two twelve year olds, it’s a very adult movie, and it doesn’t skimp on the horror. It’s not a gory shock-filled extravaganza, but rather a beautifully shot deliberate and very suspenseful thriller that will hook you from its opening moments right up until the end.

It’s one of my favorite vampire movies of recent years, and I highly recommend it.

—Michael

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: LET ME IN (2010)

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Let Me In poster

Here’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, on the Hammer comeback movie LET ME IN (2010) directed by Matt Reeves and starring Chloe Grace Moretz, published in the August 2014 edition of The Horror Writers Association Newsletter.

And remember, if you like this column, my book IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, a collection of 115 horror movie columns, is available from NECON EBooks as an EBook at www.neconebooks.com, and as a print edition at https://www.createspace.com/4293038.

—Michael

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

BY

MICHAEL ARRUDA

LET ME IN (2010) is one of my favorite vampire movies.

Sure, it’s the first Hammer Film to be released in theaters since the 1970s, but that’s not the reason I like it so much.

And yes, it’s a remake of the Swedish film LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008), which many consider to be the superior film.  However, back in its heyday, Hammer made its living with horror movie remakes, and they did just fine.  I’m here to say that Hammer’s version of the novel Let The Right One In by Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist, the source material for both movies, is every bit as good as the original 2008 film.

Of course, it helps to have a topnotch director at the helm, and a charismatic young star.  Hammer had both, in director Matt Reeves, the man responsible for the instant horror movie classic CLOVERFIELD (2008), and in young actress Chloe Grace Moretz, who dazzled audiences as the 11 year-old crime fighter Hit Girl in KICK-ASS (2010).

In LET ME IN, twelve year-old Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is having a rough time of it.  His parents are getting divorced, and he’s bullied relentlessly at school by a group of bullies led by a boy named Kenny (Dylan Minnette).  However, things begin to look up when a young girl named Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz) moves into the apartment next door with her father (Richard Jenkins).

The two become friends, and for Owen, things get even better when Abby agrees to go steady with him, which for a twelve year-old, is a huge deal.  But Abby has a dark secret— she’s a vampire, and when people around the apartment complex start turning up dead, and a police detective (Elias Koteas) shows up investigating the murders, Owen realizes his new best friend is responsible for some very bad things.

LET ME IN works on many different levels, but the best part is that the true horror in this movie isn’t the vampire stuff, but the hellish torment Owen goes through at school at the hands of Kenny and his friends.  Even though Abby is responsible for killing people and drinking their blood, we don’t hate or fear her.  In fact, we’re rooting for her when she offers to help Owen with his bully problem.  Likewise, we’re rooting for Owen and Abby to somehow elude the authorities so they can remain friends.

LET ME IN is blessed with very likable characters.  Take the police detectivechloe grace moretz – let me in, played by Elias Koteas, for example.  He’s a very sympathetic character, which leads to a mixture of emotions later in the film when he closes in on Abby and Owen.  We obviously don’t want to see Abby caught by the police, but yet in a very exciting scene near the end of the film, when Koteas’ detective finally gets inside Abby’s apartment and is about to discover her body sleeping during the day, we don’t want to see anything happen to him either.

The same can be said about Richard Jenkins’ character.  He goes about the countryside brutally murdering people so he can get blood for Abby, and yet, in a key scene, where his plans go awry, we’re almost wishing for him to escape those who are chasing him.

Our emotions are played perfectly by writer/director Matt Reeves.  Other than the two young leads, Reeves is the reason this movie works so well.  It’s a clever script with even better direction.

Behind the camera, Reeves pays close attention to detail.  The murder scenes are set up as intricately as something Hitchcock would have done.  And the story is told in a way that builds suspense and piques our interest.  From the opening sequence where a police escort brings a severely burned victim to the hospital, the victim a suspect in a series of “cult” murders, we wonder, who is this guy?  We don’t know the truth about Abby at first, and only gradually do we learn what’s really going on.

Then there’s the whole love story angle, which works incredibly well considering the leads are just twelve years-old, which is why, no doubt, Reeves continually makes reference to Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet, to perhaps show us the relevance and validity of young love.  The scenes between Moretz and McPhee are handled with an amazing degree of sensitivity and tenderness.

I have to say that I loved Reeves’ directorial effort here, so much so that I think he may have matched his phenomenal work on CLOVERFIELD.

The two leads own this movie.  Chloe Grace Moretz is spectacular here as young Abby.  She’s as good as she was as Hit Girl in KICK-ASS.  She’s incredibly sincere and real in her scenes with Owen, and when she becomes haunted by her bloodlust, she turns savage in a second, and young Moretz handles this transition masterfully.

Young Kodi Smit-McPhee as Owen is every bit as good as Moretz.  He’s such a scrawny helpless victim you can’t help but feel for him.  And again, his scenes with Moretz are nothing short of amazing.  Their relationship is genuine and heartfelt.

The scene where they deal with Abby’s need to be invited inside a home is one of the most touching sequences you’ll find in any vampire movie.

The film also features an excellent supporting cast.  Richard Jenkins is outstanding as Abby’s guardian.  In fact, the sequence where his murder attempt goes wrong, and he finds himself trapped in the backseat of a car is one of my favorite scenes in the movie.  Jenkins makes this man such a sympathetic character, which is remarkable, considering the brutal murders he commits.

Elias Koteas is also excellent as the police detective, and to his credit he takes a small role and makes it matter.  We want to see him solve the crime, until that is, it means capturing young Abby.  Koteas and Jenkins are two of my favorite actors, and it was great seeing them both in this movie.

Just as good as these two veteran actors is young Dylan Minnette as the bully Kenny.  He’s as menacing a bully as you’ll find in a movie.  Minnette was also very good as Hugh Jackman’s son in the kidnap thriller PRISONERS (2013).

Don’t let the fact that LET ME IN is a remake fool you.

LET ME IN is a superior horror film, written and directed by one of the most talented directors working in genre films today, Matt Reeves, and it features knock-out performances by its two young leads, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Grace Moretz, as well as a topnotch cast of supporting actors.  And, it’s produced by Hammer Films, a company that based on its rich history (hello Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing) knows a thing or two about horror movie remakes.

“Can I come in?”  Abby asks Owen from outside his window.  “You have to say it.”

Say what?

LET ME IN.

–END—