War feigns profundity

War for the Planet of the Apes is a bludgeoning film of empty and meaningless metaphors wrapped up in the clothing of presumed depth. It’s the sort of picture that feigns profundity, but instead collapses under the weight of its misguided imagery.

Set 15 years after the outbreak of the plague that wiped out a significant amount of the human population, the narrative depicts Caesar (Andy Serkis) seeking vengeance for the brutal slaughter of his wife and child at the hands of a mythical figure known as The Colonel (Woody Harrelson). The choice comes at the cost of his tribe who are making a long journey beyond the desert for a new promised land.

Predominantly, the story could be read as a loose adaptation of the Exodus tale. However, the interpretation has little validity because Caesar never feels like a Moses figure and the other facets of the story lack shading. The ape leader eventually tracks the lionized military figure to a far distant base and finds out that his tribe have been placed under bondage in a labor camp. The Colonel requests the collected group to build a wall.

However, there is never any reason for this demand, and instead the plot point comes across as an overt post-Trumpian reference without story-driven significance, let alone evoking Exodus. The general problem with War is that its metaphors are empty and do not say anything about the characters in the picture.

There is some Christ imagery in the picture as Caesar is strung to a cross. But it begs the question: what does the character have to atone for? He is just one ape; his tribe could have easily have been captured with or without him.

Likewise, the American national anthem being played while soldiers beat up and whip a number of the apes is indicative in suggesting that slavery has pervaded America’s past. But equating an entire race to the apes’ plight is too edgy; it ceases to become subversive and instead is objectionable.

Crucially, the film is at odds with itself. The title implies a finale soaked in bloody battle, but instead the picture delivers a belabored and pretentious skirmish that ultimately feels inconsequential.

From: Sartaj Singh

Dunkirk needs a story editor

Dunkirk was one of the worst movies I have seen in years. It’s visually stunning but Christopher Nolan cannot execute a story to save his life. I believe Nolan’s intent behind Dunkirk was either a) a war story depicting the heroics or lack thereof behind survival, paling in comparison to one of the few movies to truly portray this paradox: Roman Polanski’s The Pianist, or b) a directorial masturbatory war movie epic a la Saving Private Ryan, another movie, despite its gore, that trumps Dunkirk. While Nolan is a visually stunning and methodical filmmaker, his deficits as a storyteller become more and more evident with every movie he makes. His storytelling and execution always come second to his visuals, much like Zack Snyder. Imagine if Nolan paired with a true screenwriter like Shane Carruth or Taylor Sheridan, both of whom have written (and in Carruth’s case directed/produced/scored/starred in) some of the most satisfying movies of the past 10 years, complete with a third and final act that truly works as a summation to a “head-scratcher” of a movie. That’s something that I believe Nolan wishes he could pull off.

From: Will Byler

Guardians Vol. 2 full of grace notes

What I won’t defend: the glorified carnage, yet another “blow up the glowing thing in order to save the universe” superhero movie ending, or Sly Stallone.

What I will defend: Chris Pratt’s ongoing ability to surprise with his acting; how they maintained a healthy mix of irreverent humor, action, and obligatory MCU service; and how these maladjusted Guardian misfits learn to love each other and themselves in a surprisingly uncheesy way. The subplots of Nebula, Yondu, and Mantis hardly drag the focus away from the Guardians. On the contrary, they enhance each of them by calling attention to the compelling parts (or defects) in the Guardians’ personalities, and propelling them toward the reconciliation and peace (however temporary) they crave. The Yondu and Nebula storylines were especially affecting, both on their own and how they affected Quill and Gamora respectively.

How can the antagonism between Quill and Rocket be “forced” given their very believable insecurities and irrepressible need to be the wittiest, most tough-guy fighter of the group? And did you fall asleep during the scenes between Rocket and Baby Groot? They contained the same delightful rapport from the first film, altered for the new, infantilized version of Groot. You must have missed those and the other “grace notes” that peppered the entire film, including the best Zune joke of all time.

No doubt the plot goes a little haywire once Kurt Russell enters the picture. (What was up with his castle and all those porcelain dioramas? Demigod hobby I guess.) It pretty quickly didn’t smell right, so I spent most of the second act waiting for The Turn. But since I’ve lowered my expectations considerably for Marvel villains, my larger concern was enjoying the laughs and unexpected poignant moments along the way.

You insist it’s a small movie trying on big-boy blockbuster pants, but I saw it as putting on one of those clear, gelled spacesuits that Quill wears at one point: the spectacle fits snugly around the human core. I’ll put up with an explosion or 17 for that.

From: Chad Comello

Lost City needed more Amazon, less England

I appreciated the parts of The Lost City of Z set in the Amazon. The piranha attack in particular presented the extreme danger of the river and jungle with skilled cinematographic style, as you noted. At times the journey on the river felt almost Apocalypse Now-esque in its hazy, surreal quality. And, the almost comical dismissal of the surely poisonous snake (something Indiana Jones would never do!) is a microcosm of the way Percy Fawcett sees the hazards of the jungle in general – he knows the risks, and he can confidently use his wits to easily sidestep them as they come.

However, the portions of the film set in the jungle started to seem too few and far between as the story got bogged down with lengthy stretches of Fawcett in England. While this was necessary to provide the tension between Fawcett’s desire to explore and his desire to care for his family, somehow these scenes bored. In spite of Fawcett’s insistence that he and his wife Nina were equals, he did not insist that she be publicly placed in a position of honor at the RGS gathering when he discusses his plans to search for the City of Z, nor did he listen to her desire to go with him on an expedition. His dismissal of her desires rarely seemed coupled with compelling evidence that he truly valued her input.

This might be true to real events, but the consequence in the film was that the scenes at home became reduced to dull interludes. The film telegraphs Percy’s often dismissive relationship to Nina and the members of the RGS, and the result is that they were not fleshed out enough to make the England portions of the film compelling. While the audience waited for a return to the jungle, the story was bogged down either by a new quarrel with the RGS, Nina presenting Percy with another child, or Percy marveling at how his previous child had grown.

The sidetrack foray into World War I where Fawcett astonishingly fights side by side with the very same members of his Amazon exploration party was also less interesting than it should have been. You were right here – the most interesting moment during the World War I portion of the film was the scene with the palm reader and the dreamlike fade into the Amazon jungle, but I’d guess that this was a point of artistic deviation from the plain facts of the story on the part of the filmmaker and perhaps the author of the novel.

This film would be better with more artistic interpretation of the source material if it wanted to make a compelling case that Fawcett was truly torn by his desire to leave his family and head back to the jungle. If not, streamline the England story and get to the action in the Amazon.

From: Joshua Koonce