Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

Posted on May 9, 2024 at 11:37 am

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence/action
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and intense peril and violence, beating, sling-shots, taser-like spears, explosion, flood, marauders, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: A metaphorical theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: May 10, 2024
Copyright 20th Century 2024K

Know going in that this is the kind of movie where the humans are mute, cognitively impaired, and yet the main human character wears tailored pants and a woven shirt that look like they came from the mall. This should not be a surprise as it is also the kind of movie there the title is, at best, paradoxical, as a planet is bigger than a kingdom and in any even the kingdom in this story is only a small part of the planet. So shouldn’t it be “Kingdom ON the Planet of the Apes?” Of all the suspension of disbelief required for the film, the idea that complex machinery would operate as intended after hundreds of years — well, that idea procured intended laughs in Woody Allen’s “Sleeper” and unintended laughs in “Battlefield Earth.”

Know, too, that, for anyone who is trying to keep track of the “how does ‘Tokyo Drift’ fit into the chronology”-type questions about the original series of films, the television show, and the Tim Burton-and-after movies, this one takes place a long time after the death of legendary character Cesar, who sacrificed himself, and, possibly, before the Charlton Heston original. Maybe.

Noa (Owen Teague) is a young, male ape who lives in a gentle clan with his parents and two best friends. We first see them preparing for a coming-of-age ritual. Each of them must find an eagle’s egg (but always leaving one in the nest), and bring it back safely. The clan is centered around their trained eagles, and Noa’s stern father is their leader. Noa struggles to get his father’s approval. We see that they have some signs of what we think of as human civilization, in addition to the rituals. They have built some simple structures as homes, they ride horses, they obey the rules of the clan, and they have adornments and some tools and simple weapons, like slingshots. Also, as mentioned above, that most human of attributes, daddy issues.

A marauding group of apes arrive, with more powerful weapons, including spears with taser-like points. They destroy the compound, kill Noa’s father, and capture everyone else, except for Noa, who manages to escape, vowing to find his clan and get revenge. He meets up with Raca (the deep, kind voice of Peter Macon), a follower of the lessons of Cesar. And they meet up with a human woman they call Nova (Freya Allan) — cue the jokes about how humans are slow-witted and smell bad.

They try to drop Nova off with a group of humans (note: none wearing pants and a shirt), but the same marauding apes arrive to capture the humans like cowboys capture mustangs or, in “The Time Machine,” the Morlocks capture the Eloi. It turns out Nova has some secrets.

She and Noa are themselves captured by the apes, they find themselves in the kingdom of Proximus (Kevin Durand), a tyrant who, like the male humans of our time, is obsessed with Ancient Rome. They live on what was once a human stronghold, and Proximus is determined to break into the vault, to get access to whatever it was the humans were so intent on protecting.

I suspect we may hear some people claim that this film is intended as a metaphor to illuminate some of the most divisive topics of our era — colonialism, immigration, xenophobia, the way we tell our history. That gives this film too much credit, but the way both Raca and Proximus claim to be the true heirs of Cesar’s authority, with very different interpretations of his message, should resonate with viewers.

We are mostly there for the special effects and action scenes, though, and those are vivid and effective. The settings are stunning and the motion capture and CGI are next-level, giving the ape characters real weight and their expressions, well, expressive. As one of the most enduring series in history moves, potentially, toward the time of the very first film, the questions remain: whether humans and apes can find a way to co-exist, whether technology can advance without causing great harm and existential threats, and whether humans or apes can ever find a way to overcome fear and greed to work together for the common good.

Parents should know that this movie includes extended peril and violence. Characters are injured and killed and there are some graphic and disturbing images. Characters use brief strong language (a human teaches it to the apes, of course).

Family discussion: Why did the clans have such different cultures?

If you like this, try: the other movies in the series and the original films with Roddy McDowell, Kim Hunter, and Charlton Heston

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The Fall Guy

Posted on May 1, 2024 at 10:00 am

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for action and violence, drug content and some strong language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, jokes about getting tipsy, drug use, including hallucinations
Violence/ Scariness: Extended real and fictional peril and action, fights, guns and other weapons, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 3, 2024

“The Fall Guy” is a love letter to movie-making, to all of the work, all of the heart, all of the expertise from hundreds of people that goes into telling our stories. It is a love letter to the audience, filled with action, romance, comedy, impossibly gorgeous, magnificently talented ,and endlessly charismatic performers, and with joy. Most of all, it is a love letter to the unsung heroes who do the crazy daredevil stunts that make the world’s most beloved movie stars look athletic and courageous. It is pure popcorn pleasure and I cannot wait to see it again.

There’s just a tincture of the 80s television series that lends its name, its theme song, character name, and a brief cameo from its star, Lee Majors). This is the story of stunt man Ryan Gosling as Colt Seavers, who is the long-time substitute for one of the world’s biggest Hollywood action stars, Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) when the script calls for anything that might be dangerous. The job of the stunt performers is to do the crazy things that make audiences gasp and cheer: cars rolling over, falls from great heights, fighting with fists, feet, and weapons, dangling from helicopters, racing speedboats. Basically, they get paid a minuscule fraction of what the star is paid to get all of the bruises, burns. and broken bones, do to it over and over, to make sure their faces do not show and ruin the illusion, and to give a thumbs-up to show that they are fine after every take.

Colt has a crush on a cinematographer and would-be director, Jody Moreno (Emily Blunt). But when Tom insists on a re-do of a fall from the top of a skyscraper atrium because he thinks too much of Colt’s chin was showing, something goes wrong and Colt is badly injured. Over the next 18 months, as he slowly recovers, he works as a parking valet and his relationship with Jody ends in hurt and disappointment.

And then Colt gets a call from Tom’s long-time producer, Gail Meyer (“Ted Lasso’s” Hannah Waddingham). Tom is making a huge sci-fi film in Australia and Gail wants Colt to do the stunts. He says no. She says Jody asked for him. He says, “Get me an aisle seat.”

Once he gets to Sydney, Gail tells Colt that Tom has disappeared and she wants Colt to find him. He also finds out that Jody did not ask for him because (1) she is surprised to see him and not happy about it and (2) she fires him. Literally. Like, she has him do a stunt where he’s on fire and gets slammed into a rock — three times.

There is so much more I’m longing to tell you about what happens next but I want you to have the pleasure of discovering it all for yourselves. I will just say that Gosling and Blunt have chemistry for days and are clearly having a blast perfecting the balance between action, comedy, romance, and mystery, there are dozens of sly jokes about Hollywood and filmmaking, Winston Duke is a dream as the stunt coordinator (if you have not seen him in “Black Panther” and “Nine Days” and “Us,” three roles that could not be more different, watch them!), there’s a stunt dog who only understands French, and while you may expect the stunts to be amazing, they are amazing times amazing. Real-life stunt performer-turned director David Leitch likes to take Hollywood’s handsomest leading men (Brad Pitt in “Bullet Train,” Gosling here) and make them scruffy and in need of a comeback, always a choice choice. Be sure to stay through the credits for behind the scenes footage of the real stunt performers and an extra scene.

Parents should know that this is an action film with extended real and fictional (stunt) peril and violence, with guns and other weapons, fight scenes, characters injured and killed, drinking and jokes about being tipsy, drugs, and some strong language.

Family discussion: What’s your go-to karaoke song and why? Why is it hard to apologize? Would you like to see the movie Colt and Jody are making?

If you like this, try: “The Stunt Man” (some mature material) with Peter O’Toole as the director of a WWI movie who impulsively hires an escaped convict as a stunt performer, and stunt-filled films like “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Fast X” and another movie from this director, also with Taylor-Johnson, “Bullet Train”

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The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare

Posted on April 17, 2024 at 8:08 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some language and strong violence throughout
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: Extensive wartime violence with guns, knives, arrows, explosions, many characters killed, many graphic and disturbing sounds and images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: April 19, 2024

It is a perfect match of story and director. Guy Ritchie is at his best in high-energy stories of very attractive men with mad fighting skills and no hesitation in using them. In between shoot-outs, explosions, and high crimes, casually toss off understated quips and references to the playing fields of Eton. This is a true story with exactly those components, plus a ton of nameless Nazis and one guy who is described as even worse than a Nazi, so killing them is as close to guilt-free as possible. He has a lot of fun with it.

Copyright Lionsgate 2024

The group of highly skilled renegades are described in the book that inspired this film as the first special forces military operatives. And we hear the British commanders explain that if Hitler isn’t following the rules, they won’t either. “They’re all bad,” warns one. “They’ll need to be,” responds another.

Of course that means they do not obey orders, either, but that’s what you get when you get a man out of prison to put together a group of cut-throats and renegades, one who is also in prison, but in his case being tortured in a German POW camp. Their mission is to go to the Ivory Coast and sink the supply ship that services the U-boats in the Atlantic Ocean.

On to the strategy, the revising of the strategy when things go wrong, the stunts, the shoot-outs, the action-banter, remix and repeat, plus a thumpy score with some cowboy twang by Christopher Benstead.

Cavill, formerly clean-cut and dashing as Superman and in the under-appreciated “The Man From UNCLE,” is even better in scruffy mode here as Gus March-Phillips. “Reacher’s” Alan Ritchson and “Crazy Rich Asian’s” Henry Golding also seem to be enjoying a chance to have some fun with their roles. The team needs some back-up help from undercover operatives, which is where we get to enjoy Babs Olusanmokun as Heron, who runs the local nightclub and “Third Body Problem’s” Eiza González as Majorie Stewart, sultry singer, sharpshooter, and, as a cover, gold smuggler.

And then there is the bad guy, described by Heron as “the only guy worse than a Nazi,” the cruel local commanding officer, (Til Schweiger), providing additional menace and urgency as the final operation becomes complicated and chaotic. Ritchie gets lost in the bombast and is too cheery about the carnage. He has no time for character or emotional heft beyond our feelings based on what we know about the history. There’s no substance, but it is entertaining.

Worth mentioning: a senior office in charge, played by “The Princess Bride’s” Cary Elwes, is known as M and one of the junior officers is a young Ian Fleming, played by Freddie Fox. Yes, that Ian Fleming, and the closing credits tell us that he got some of his ideas for James Bond from this experience.

Parents should know that this is an extremely violent film set in wartime, with a lot of guns, knives, arrows, and explosions, some torture, prostitutes and implied sexual abuse, with many disturbing and graphic sounds and images. Characters use strong language and there is drinking and drunkenness.

Family discussion: What rules work during a war? Why aren’t all military operations conducted this way? How is war today different from this story?

If you like this, try: the book by Damien Lewis (the writer, not the actor) and films like “The Dirty Dozen” and “The Guns of Navarone”

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Poster for Civil War

Civil War

Posted on April 9, 2024 at 8:07 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong violent content, bloody/disturbing images, and language
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and marijuana
Violence/ Scariness: Extensive very intense and graphic wartime violence, characters injured, tortured, killed, and executed, mass grave, disturbing and gory images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: April 12, 2024

Writer/director Alex Garland likes to present audiences with extinction level disaster, from the zombie apocalypse “28 Days Later” to the investigate-the-anomaly “Annihilation” and the AI-can- outsmart-us “Ex Machina.” In all of them, though, the story is not the causes or consequences of the unconquerable threats; it is us, and the way we respond to them. There is no zombie as terrifying in “28 Days Later” as the humans who betray one another.

Kirsten Dunst in Civil War
Copyright 2024 A24

“Civil War” is not about the issues or personalities that caused three states to declare war on the rest of the US. We learn in the first moments that two of the states are, in today’s politics, majority far-right Texas and Florida and far-left California (with strong opposite-leaning parts of the states), so there are no easy conclusions to draw. This movie is about the journalists covering the war by bringing cameras into the battles, being present as proxy, never making themselves part of the story by inserting themselves into even the most disturbing and potentially preventable carnage. The most important comment in the film, from a veteran war photographer to a 23-year-old newcomer is, “We record so other people ask.”

We will see, though, that other people do not seem to be asking. Both the veteran, Lee (Kirsten Dunst) and the newcomer, Jessie (Cailee Spaeny of “Priscilla”) are daughters of farmers they describe as pretending nothing is happening. Four journalists are trying to drive from the battleground in New York City to Washington D.C. to interview the President (Nick Offerman). They cannot take the highway that was the direct route because it has been destroyed. As they drive via back western Pennsylvania and West Virginia, they see shoot-outs and desolation, except for one small town that appears to be untouched by the war. It even has charming shops carrying items like party dresses no one has any more reason to buy. The store clerk explains that they prefer to pretend the war is not happening. As they leave, Lee sees that they are not in complete denial; there are snipers on the roofs.

The other two journalists are adrenalin junkie Joel (Wagner Moura, Pablo Escobar in “Narcos”), and elder statesman and mentor Sammy (the always-great Stephen McKinley Henderson of “Fences” and “Lady Bird”). If you get confused as they travel about who is on which side, that is the point. When they try to interview a soldier who is in the middle of a skirmish, he impatiently summarizes the situation as shooting and being shot at. Jesse Plemons has a brief scene as a terrifying figure who, though wearing a uniform, does not seem aligned with any side except his own sense of who is an authentic American.

Significantly, we never see anyone at a news organization receiving the images they send, much less a subscriber reading a news story. We are told that in Washington they are shooting journalists.

As Jessie points out, Lee’s career began with an image she took when she was still in college, a viral photograph of the “Antifa Massacre” (no indication of whether they were the killers or the victims). And she shares a name with legendary WWII photojournalist Lee Miller. Lee has a steely reserve, tempered with numbness, when photographing the most dire, dangerous, and disturbing situations. But she retains some empathy, even tenderness for Jessie, perhaps because she sees something of herself. She both wants to help her and protect her, understanding that she cannot do both.

Jessie insists on using an old camera, with film, not digital, perhaps a tribute to Lee Miller. She even carries a travel developing kit, keeping the fluid in a vial under her shirt so it stays warm. But Lee is there to tell the story, and Jessie is more like Joel, to feel the rush.

The final scenes, an attack on Washington DC, are horrifying. We’ve seen the iconic structures blown up in movies before, but the intensity and devastation of this film are unprecedented. This builds on the carefully chosen details we have already seen, a high school football field converted to a refugee center run by an international humanitarian aid group, a mass grave, those snipers on the roofs.

Garland’s words from a Daily Beast interview are the best conclusion to a discussion of the film: “More and more news organizations have become dominated by bias, so this is a throwback to an older form of journalism, which is reporting. Then, the film is attempting to function like a reporter. It’s about reporters, and it’s trying to be like a reporter itself.”

Parents should know that this movie includes intense and disturbing wartime violence with many characters injured and killed, some torture, murder, and many graphic and disturbing images including dead bodies and a mass grave). Characters use very strong language, smoke marijuana, and drink alcohol.

Family discussion: Should journalists ever intervene in the situations they are covering? What journalists do you trust and why? How are Sammy, Lee, Joel, and Jessie different in their reasons and approaches?

If you like this, try: Garland’s other films and “The Year of Living Dangerously”

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cast of Monkey Man

Monkey Man

Posted on April 4, 2024 at 5:43 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, rape, language throughout, sexual content/nudity and drug use
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and very intense peril and violence, rape, arson, guns, knives, other weapons
Diversity Issues: Abuse of ethnic minorities
Date Released to Theaters: April 5, 2024

We knew Dev Patel was a talented and charismatic actor, and it turns out he is also an audacious, imaginative, and very impressive filmmaker with an exceptional gift for cinematic storytelling. If a movie’s biggest problem is that it has too many ideas, that’s a good problem to have. “Monkey Man” is clearly a passion project from someone who has absorbed the best of what movies have to offer and added some new thoughts of his own. In one scene near the end, as Patel’s character (not given a name in the film and listed as Kid in the credits) enters a room where there is a mirrored mobile. We get glimpses of him through the reflective disks. It adds to the tension of the scene and it is visually stunning.

That scene, like much of the film, is intensely violent, with very graphic and disturbing images and sounds. The plot can be summed up with one word, the simplest and most immediately powerful of all storylines: revenge.

We first see Kid losing a brutal fight in an underground club run by the sleazy impresario Tiger (Sharlto Copley), who pays a “blood bonus” for gore. Both Tiger and the audience are there for the gore, the more brutal the better. The fighters wear masks that cover their heads. Kid’s is a monkey.

Over the course of the film, we see why the monkey is meaningful to Kid. It goes back to the myths his adored and adoring mother told him about Lord Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god. Kid and his mother lived in an edenic, garden-like community, a sharp contrast in the flashbacks with the gritty reality of the urban setting in present day. It was destroyed in an ethnic cleansing and his mother was raped and murdered. His one purpose is to get close enough to the people involved to destroy them. We know, from experience stories of revenge, that it will not happen quickly and that he must learn some lessons before that can happen.

Patel draws from the myth of Hanuman but also from the history of cinema. The reflective disks I mentioned are a creative variation on the iconic mirror scene in “The Lady from Shanghai.” The “John Wick” series is cheekily called out as Kid looks over an assortment of guns, but it is reflected throughout the film in the bravura staging of fight scenes (bathrooms and kitchens are always good locations, and a giant fish tank is a nice touch) and in a big chase through the city streets. We might catch inspiration from the Bourne films and the stylishness of “Drive” and “Baby Driver” as well. But Patel does not copy or imitate. He learns.

This is very much his own story and even the smallest details reflect his singular vision. Someone should write an entire essay about his musical choices, exceptionally well-chosen. On example is in a very intense fight scene, where we might expect an energetic score; he goes in the opposite direction, a much more vivid reflection of his character’s mood and mode. And Patel is, as ever, a magnetic performer, his lanky body always elegant and graceful, which gives the fight scenes a balletic quality.

The editing is exceptionally dynamic but never kaleidoscopic or distracting. It is always in service of the story, pulling us forward into what is happening. Here and there, Patel is so intent on making sure we understand, he tells us more than we need; pulling a newspaper out of the garbage and putting food for a dog onto the page with a photo of one of the people he is chasing, picking a name from a bottle of bleach, a trans woman character explaining their identification with a statue representing both male and female gods. But the film’s evident passion and sincerity hold our affection, as does his introduction of endearing characters who care for Kid. Patel has called this “an anthem for the underdogs, the voiceless and the marginalized.” The action may be dazzling, but it is the heart that will stay with you.

Parents should know that this film is extremely violent, with graphic and disturbing images and sounds. Characters are injured and killed. A woman is raped and other women are trafficked. There are scenes of prostitution including nudity and explicit sexual situations. Characters drink, smoke, and use drugs and very strong language.

Family discussion: Why doesn’t the character have a name? What inspires him about the story of Hanuman? What does he learn from his time with the people in the temple?

If you like this, try: The “John Wick” series, “Polite Society,” and “Drive”

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