Thoughts on War for the Planet of the Apes

Spoilers ahead

1.
Disclaimer: Apparently, War has a number of similarities to Apocalypse Now, a film I haven’t seen (which I’m sure is a violation of at least 4 Man Rules)

2.
The animation in War is incredible. The apes were realistically ape-like, while their faces still conveyed a gamut of human emotions. I like to imagine War as the first real nature documentary. When Attenborough is around, they fake it because they know he’s watching. But War caught them when they thought no one else was around, doing actual ape activities like firing guns and fighting Woody Harrelson.

As impressively animated as Caesar was, Bad Ape was the peak. Before he spoke, his face revealed what the tone of his next sentence would be. Outside of a video-realistic humans (looking at you, Rogue One), there’s now nothing CGI can’t do. And the cost to create those effects will, presumably, continue to drop in line with Moore’s Law. Imagine, in just a few years time, effects of this quality being available to indie film-makers. We’re at an exciting moment in film tech.

3.
Bad Ape arrived just when he was needed. War takes itself very seriously. It’s a well-made film about death and extinction and survival, but it’s still about apes fighting people, and its creators should recognise that that’s amusing. When the weight of all that seriousness was becoming too much to bear, Bad Ape showed up and effectively counterbalanced it.

4.
I’ve never been able to figure out the ingredients to successful tension-defusing humour. What does it work and why does it fail? Is it just the quality of the humour, the time given between drama and comedy, a mix of the two, or something else entirely? War tried to quickly transition from a starved orangutan being murdered (with allusions to the Nazi concentration camps), to Ha ha, Bad Ape has the binoculars round the wrong way. It failed. Did that tone-change falter because it wouldn’t be funny regardless, or because the light-hearted moment was too close to a dark one?

5.
A low point: opening text appears. The first segment highlights the word ‘Dawn’. The second, ‘Rise’. Both words remained when the others faded. Yes, I get that these are the names of the first two films. You don’t need to make it so obvious. Caesar explains who Koba was for anyone who missed the previous installment. War should’ve trusted its audience more

6.
Absolute low point: graffiti that read Ape-pocalypse Now. An absolute head-slapper of a moment. Who thought that was a good idea? No matter how closely War resembles Apocalypse Now, so blatantly highlighting that fact only succeeded in breaking my immersion in the film’s universe.

7.
War had a clear case of the Recency Bias, or whatever you’d call it when a film’s ending has a disproportionate effect on your estimation of it. As the credits rolled, my wife asked “What did you think?”. “That was really good”, I replied. Then I remembered the moments where I was bored or wished the pace would quicken. It was as if my mind was forcible trying to remove those memories.

8.
Additional spoiler warning here:

Annoyingly, suspension of disbelief never kicked in for me regarding Caesar’s fate. I assumed the success of this Apes trilogy meant the studio would run the series into the ground, and Caesar would be the linchpin to which they’d attach another 235 films (Apes #23: Sub-Prime Mortgage Crisis of the Planet of the Apes). That ‘fact’ stuck so prominently in my mind that, any time Caesar seemed to be in jeopardy, I never worried. The logical part of my mind that so often switches off during stories? It refused to shut up. Caesar got shot with an arrow, and I thought Whatever, he’ll be fine. So imagine my surprise when he lay down to enter the forest in the sky. I got a bit emotional at that bit. A tear came to my mental eye. It’s a goddam dirty fictional ape. That emotional response says a lot about how well these films humanise their characters and how good they are.

9.
Disliked: so that wee girl could just wander completely unnoticed into the compound? Floodlights roam the place, but no soldiers actually pay them any attention? There wasn’t a more realistic way to write that scene?

10.
Weren’t the apes’ cages just a few bars and no roof? Aren’t apes good at climbing? As far as I could see, most of them weren’t chained. Could they not have just scaled the bars and gotten out? Especially at night, when no one seems to be watching (see above)

11.
The landslide was convenient. From what I remember there was no foreshadowing to it. Screenwriters must’ve been clutching their necklaces at the lack of setup, of a film embracing deus ex machina instead of Chekov’s Gun.

Maybe, when Caesar is taken to meet Harrelson, a soldier could’ve been there who worried that explosions could bring down the snow around them. Harrelson would have dismissed him. That’s how these things work — ignore the scientist, and find out too late that he was right all along.

Regardless, I enjoyed the effects of the landslide. It was like nature hitting the Big Reset Button, putting apes back in trees and getting rid of pesky humans

12.
Apes has possibly been too successful for its own good. No matter what route the franchise takes from here out, I expect the artistic quality to diminish. So let’s remember that War is a good film and its prequels are even better. Their success has been a pleasant surprise. This Apes reboot is one of the better trilogies in all of cinema. They deserve to be fondly remembered.

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Friday Links: 11th August 2017

Books

Reading: Michael Lewis’s latest, The Undoing Project, and loving it

And bought:

Online:

 

 

 

Carrie On Spying: On Homeland Season Six

Spoilers for Homeland Season 6

1.
Every season of Homeland I expect will be my last. For the first few episodes I’m uninterested, on my phone instead of in the episode. Every year I think the ‘Carrie is mentally ill and a loose cannon but go she’s good at her job so we’ll let her away with it and perhaps give her more authority’ shtick has been stretched as far as possible. Yet by the middle of every season, I’m on-board and enjoying the show. Season six was no different. Dull at the beginning, 24 by the end, but enjoyable in between

2.
One of my favourite moments was when Carrie had her first meeting with the woman from child services, when I realised that woman was us. It was like a viewer being plucked off their couch and transported into their TV to interact with the characters. The audience getting their chance to say to Carrie, ‘You’re supposed to be smart, but you do a lot of stupid shit. You left your daughter with a dangerously unstable man. What goes through your head sometimes?’

3.
You could make a short GIF of many of Quinn’s moments and make fun of it, but Rupert Friend did well in a tough role, making Quinn’s problems believable

4.
I enjoyed, and didn’t expect, Keane’s turn from Hillary Clinton, to Trump, to Erdogan

5.
I didn’t enjoy, or believe, the ridiculous 24-esque homegrown terror attack on the president. But it was worth it to set up her heel turn in the finale

6.
Quinn must’ve been really off his game to spend so much time in that house and not notice all the explosives

7.
Whenever Max turns up, I can’t help but think that the show tried to get Virgil, but he was too busy

8.
O’Keefe was too obviously Alex Jones. The obvious similarity made his scenes distracting. And his voice was annoying

9.
The American public responded too harshly to the ‘reveal’ that Keane’s son was a coward. She didn’t specificallt use his death in the campaign, yet average citizens go demented once they see that video, even though Keane remains the mother of a murdered soldier?

10.
Around season two or three of the show, Homeland leaned heavily on making every single character suspicious. Outside of Dar, they then lightened up on the paranoia. But this season it returned — everyone was dodgy. I go back and forth on how I feel about it. Sometimes, I think the show is trying to provoke a spy mindset in its viewers, that constant sense that you can’t trust anyone. Other times I think it’s a cheap trick to engage the audience

11.
RIP Quinn. A sign that you enjoy a character is when you realise they’ve nowhere to go, that the show can no longer use them, but you still want them to survive. Ol’ Petey joined that list.

When Quinn shot the protester outside Carrie’s house, he hit him in the shoulder, the ‘safe space’ as he referred to it, meaning an area of impact that would harm but not kill. When Quinn first got shot, he got hit in that very same place. I thought the show was giving him an out after all. Until another few dozen shots hit him everywhere else. Farewell, Friend

Friday Links: 21st July 2017

Podcasts:

  • Radiolab’s first episode about the history and potential future of gene-editing tool CRISPR is probably my favourite podcast ever. The sequel isn’t quite as engaging (probably because I’m now familiar with the topic), but a great listen nevertheless
  • I think The Rubin Report might now make my list of regular listens. Eric Weinstein is always worth your time
  • The other Weinstein brother, Bret, was on Joe Rogan’s podcast recently. A university professor, Bret was recently accused of being racist in ridiculous circumstances. Rogan is barely to reply sometimes, staggered as he is by some of Weinstein’s stories

Video:

  • The 1992 US Olympic basketball team, aka The Dream Team, is/are widely considered the greatest basketball team ever. And now every one of their games are fully, legally available.

Friday Links: 14th July 2017

After attending the Frank Quitely comic art exhibition a few weeks ago, I’ve been right back into my comics. Lately, I’ve been reading:

And in non-comics reading, I’ve made a start on Gomorrah. And my next read might be about Chaos Magic – Condensed Chaos

Ordered:

I got a damaged copy of the book, The Science of Interstellar for £1. I also added to my order:

Friday Links: 7th July 2017

Books

Online:

  • Still working through this long but illuminating guide to how Bitcoin works
  • Prodigy from Mobb Deep died while I was holiday, so I only found out about it recently. Time to revisit their great album, Hell on Earth.

 

Film Thoughts: Alien Covenant

Spoilers ahead

…Hey, Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a spoiler?

1.
Here’s a formula for you: David + Walter + flute = Boredom

A wannabee profound moment that was actually dull and embarrassing. I’ve read that the innuendo was written as deliberately comical. But whether the cringe was purposeful or not, that moment was jarring in how tonally off it was from the rest of the film. Most films need moments of levity. But not like this

2.
I thought Tennessee would be the most annoying character. Prometheus’ attempts at humour consistently fell flat. While Covenant has a different writing team, I thought Danny McBride would be tasked with delivering similarly bad lines, ticking off good ol’ country-boy stereotypes along the way. Yet Tennessee was the most watchable non-mechanical character in the film.  

The only problem with McBride’s performance is that Tennessee is the same person before his wife’s death as after. By its nature, film generally has to accelerate the grief cycle, particularly in an ensemble death-fest like Covenant. But Tennessee had almost no cycle. A few seconds of sadness, then he hits the emotional reset-button and is back on the clock. Maybe those scenes weren’t filmed chronologically. Perhaps McBride shot the scenes after the wife’s death before he acted finding out about it

Continue reading “Film Thoughts: Alien Covenant”