"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

© all material on this website is written by Michael McCaffrey, is copyrighted, and may not be republished without consent

Angry Americans, Shark Attacks and Synchronicity II

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes 29 seconds

I took a little vacation last week and headed out for some sun and fun on Cape Cod. The beach was great, and except for my one close call where I barely escaped/survived a harrowing shark attack*, my time on the Cape was thoroughly enjoyable.

What was not so enjoyable was getting to the Cape. Air travel has devolved from being a modern marvel of man’s ingenuity to being a crucible bordering on a crucifixion. The Passion of My Flight began at 4 am when I had to get up to get to LAX to run the gauntlet of both airport traffic and TSA security. My flight to Boston was delayed leaving LAX for 45 minutes because of traffic on the runway, but at least we were right on time to run into a “microburst” at Logan airport which forced us to divert to Bangor, Maine, of all God forsaken places. For three interminable hours my flight was held, Dog Day Afternoon/hijack-style, on the tarmac at Bangor while we waited to refuel and for Logan to recover from its “microbursting”.

To be fair, my stay in Bangor was not nearly as bad as it could have been. Part of what made it tolerable was that the passengers in my section all bonded over the misbehavior of two passengers who were kicked off in Bangor. I didn’t see what happened, but was informed by a gaggle of gossipy flight attendants, or as I condescendingly call them “stewardesses”, that once we landed in Bangor a guy in his 30’s or so, declared he was going to exit the plane to have a smoke. The stewardesses informed him that, no, he was not allowed to leave the plane and was not allowed to smoke. Joe Camel was having none of it and since the stewardesses had opened the cabin door in order to ventilate our plane, he forced his way off the craft and onto the tarmac to light up. The funniest part of this story, and a strong indicator of this guy’s extraordinary genius, is that he was trying to smoke right next to the fuel truck that was refueling our jet….what could possibly go wrong? To the flight crew’s credit, they put up with none of the Marlboro Man’s nonsense and called the police who quickly escorted this gentlemen to his barred Bangor accommodations for the evening (I can attest that I did actually see the Maine State troopers drive up to our plane).

To the further delight of our section of passengers, the stewardesses also informed us that Smoking Man was traveling with his mom, who was also kicked off the plane for her bad behavior, as she had berated the flight crew as they had her son arrested. The crew shared with us that this woman, who sounds lovely, had also cursed at them throughout the flight because they failed to point out the Grand Canyon to her when we flew over it. While I did not enjoy my brief time in Bangor, I can only imagine that this mother and son combo REALLY disliked their extended stay in Bangor.

My return flight was no walk in the park either, as it was delayed at Logan for 3 excruciating hours before we ever boarded, and this was after I got to the airport two hours early in order to once again, run the gauntlet of traffic and security. Frustrations were running high at the gate as passengers tried to gather information on when exactly we would be leaving. Not surprisingly, airline staff on the ground were not fountains of abundant knowledge.

As far as I know, there were no arrests on this flight but there was a very tense confrontation between a middle aged father and a younger mother sitting behind him. What started it all I have no idea, as I had earplugs in…but by the time I removed them the confrontation was close to becoming a conflagration.

The younger woman, who was maybe in her thirties, had a smaller child with her, around 5 or so, and she was cursing up a storm at the guy in front of her who was with his teenage son. The guy told her to watch her mouth and not curse out his son, and she continued to “motherfuck” the both of them. The middle aged guy raised his voice threateningly in response, and then the woman played shocked and appalled that a man would raise his voice to her, and then the stewardesses arrived and did nothing but watch the argument escalate. Like the “microburst” at Logan on my earlier flight, this storm revealed flashes of shocking intensity but then dissipated into an uneasy quiet.

From my very brief observations of these two people before, during and after their confrontation, I can say with some level of certitude that both of them seemed like pretty shitty, self-absorbed human beings. The guy struck me as a total douchebag, as I had a brief interaction with him before we boarded and sensed he rated high on the asshole scale. The woman was no ray of sunshine either, as she struck me as just as entitled and obnoxious as her male opponent. If a fist fight had broken out between the two I am certain that I would have intervened, but only to punch them both in the face and lock them in the aft lavatory.

So why do I share these stories with you? Am I morphing into a travelogue writer or something? No…I share them because I think these anecdotes reveal a great deal about the current state of America and the American psyche.

One of the first things that stood out on my travels was that our infrastructure is a disaster area. Traffic both to and from LAX and Logan was an utter catastrophe. There are too many cars and too many people and not enough space. And it isn’t just the roads that are too congested…the skies are as well as my plane hit traffic trying to take off from LAX which was just as bad as the traffic on the drive to the airport.

The fragility of our infrastructure was highlighted by my flight being diverted from Boston to Bangor due to a 15 minute storm. Yes, the storm was a very intense one, but it did only last 15 minutes, and yet I had to sit in Bangor for three hours. No doubt other Logan bound flights suffered the same fate in Portland, Hartford, Providence and other mid-major cities across the eastern seaboard. The diverted flights then put strains on their new airports in the form of parking spaces/fuel etc., and then air travel along the east coast would be delayed and backed up because Logan had to land and take off the flights that were diverted/delayed before they let other flights already scheduled leave/arrive.

When you think about our civilization and how tenuous it is…it is pretty chilling. I mean, if there was some sort of solar flare or some other catastrophe that hit the U.S. and knocked out power, we would devolve into Mad Max/Escape From New York/Planet of the Apes territory in a matter of days, if not hours. It would be nice to think that a disastrous event would bring people together and illuminate the angels of our better nature, but as some of the passengers on my flight proved, that is unlikely. Considering that my toddler son behaved markedly better than full blown adults on my flights who could not control themselves or their impulses, is a pretty strong indicator that chaos is just a heartbeat away at any given moment.

In regards to the passenger misbehavior on my flights, the thing that stood out to me is that there is a palpable anger coursing through the blood of Americans. People are just really, really pissed off right now. I cannot recall a time in my life where tensions have been this high in America. People are stressed and scared and completely on edge, and the underlying tension and anxiety creating American’s anger and fury is only gaining in intensity as it expands across the country.

The Smoking Man who refused to listen to the stewardesses and tried to smoke on the tarmac while the plane refueled is a wonderful symbol of the epidemic of narcissistic entitlement spreading across the country. This guy wanted what he wanted, when he wanted it, and was willing to risk potentially blowing up an airliner with 200 people on board just to satiate his desire/addiction.

The funny thing is that everyone stuck on that plane in Bangor was so irritated and aggravated by our situation (our delay/diversion), that I am sure that if Smoking Man had caused a big headache that encompassed all of the passengers in my section, we would have torn him limb from limb like a ravenous mob. I take no pride in saying I know I would have gleefully participated in, if not instigated, that riotous behavior towards any scapegoat stupid enough to present him/her/itself.

It seems to me that America is rapidly losing its mind. We have devolved into a combustible people looking for offense, slights, or excuses to vent the rage that boils just beneath the surface of our seemingly mundane and terrifyingly meaningless lives. This perpetual state of stress, tension and anger blinds us to reality and causes us to see only those things that reinforce our worst instincts and impulses about other people and feeds our sense of dissatisfaction and disenfranchisement.

As to why we are so angry and stressed…well…the causes are legion. As previously stated, our dilapidated infrastructure is a cause of stress as it creates irritants like traffic both on our streets and in the skies. Economic and financial pressure creates stress among millions who have to work longer and harder to make less and pay for more. Politics no doubt is a force multiplier of these stresses and anxieties as absolutely everything in our culture is politicized beyond recognition. Trump, love him or loathe him, is also a major contributor to American anxiety and tension as he is virtually everywhere. It is impossible to escape Trump, or talk of Trump, or opinions of Trump, no matter where you go or what you do. Social media is a toxic vehicle in and of itself, but in the age of Trump it has become a dealer of all things Trump 24/7, that keeps the addicted high on their own supply of Trump love/hate. The media, cable news in particular, are non-stop Trump and have devolved into reality television where Trump is the character they love to hate.

I also think Americans are suffering an existential crisis, where our lives have been stripped of purpose and we are left adrift in a vacuous sea of vapid consumerism devoid of any philosophical, religious or spiritual meaning. This emptiness used to manifest itself as a sort of listless malaise and ennui, but has now morphed into a volcanic rage and fury ready to erupt in order to release the pressure building deep inside its dissatisfied core.

It seems to me that we are on a very dangerous trajectory that is fraught with peril. As the events of the last week have shown, people of all persuasions (political and otherwise) are filled with anger and hatred and are a hair’s breath from snapping and hurting or killing lots of people. As much as I hate to say it, I fear that there is no turning back from the madness that is infecting us all…and when Trump is re-elected, and from my discussions with people on my travels I think he is going to be, this country is going to detonate and we will all be caught up in the conflagration.

America is a tinderbox and tense, anxious and stressed people are going to ignore the warning signs, throw caution to the wind, and try to satiate their selfish desires and addictions by lighting up next to a fuel truck which will cause this whole shithouse to go up in flames. Sadly we are no longer equipped with the personal or national infrastructure to be able to extinguish that inferno.

My observations of Americans during my recent journey made me think of the 1983 song "Synchronicity II” by The Police. The song is off of the band’s fifth, final and best studio album, Synchronicity. Sting’s insightful and prophetic lyrics speak to the meaninglessness of our modern lives and the primal darkness that lurks just beneath the surface of our civilized/middle-class veneer, and are accompanied by an edgy and grating guitar that haunts and pesters like an infectious bug crawling just beneath our skin. This song could be America’s new national anthem.

SYNCHRONICITY II

Another suburban family morning/ Grandmother screaming at the wall/We have to shout above the tin of our rice krispies/We can’t hear anything at all

Mother chants her litany of boredom and frustration/But we know all her suicides are fake/ Daddy only stares in to the distance/ There’s only so much more that he can take

Many miles away/ Something crawls from the slime/ At the bottom of a dark Scottish lake

Another industrial ugly morning/ The factory belches filth into the sky/ He walks unhindered through the picket lines today/ He doesn’t think to wonder why

Secretaries put and preen like cheap tarts at a red light street/ But all he ever thinks to do is watch/ And every single meeting with his so-called superiors/ Is a humiliating kick in the crotch

Many miles away/ Something crawls to the surface/ Of dark Scottish loch

Another working day has ended/ Only the rush hour hell to face/ Packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes/ Contestants in a suicidal race

Daddy grips the wheel and stares alone into the distance/ He knows that something somewhere has to break/ He sees the family home now, looming in his headlights/ The pain upstairs that makes his eyeballs ache

There’s a shadow on the door/ Of a cottage on the shore/ Of a dark Scottish lake/ Many miles away/ Many miles away

Sting is right…and that primordial beast crawling out of an ancient Scottish loch is no longer slouching towards America…it is here, it is angry and there is no stopping or controlling it.

*Shark Attack - My shark attack story is this…there have been a plethora of shark sightings on the Cape this summer, so much so that the Boston Globe even had a front page story with the headline “Sharks on Cape Cod: Just how scared should we be?”. The Globe answers its own question with a resounding…”VERY SCARED!”. For this reason and because the absolute only thing in the entire world that I am afraid of is sharks, I was not going to go into the Atlantic during my vacation. I was assured by everyone I spoke with that the location of my Cape beach was on the Martha’s Vineyard sound, which would have no seals at all, and since it has no seals there would be no sharks. People were adamant that our beach was safe and that no seals had ever been spotted there and certainly no sharks. I admit I found this story to be at best dubious, but due to peer pressure I relented and trepidatiously ventured into the dark unknown of three feet of Atlantic ocean.

Except for the fact that there were dozens of shark sightings at other Cape locations, the vast majority of my Cape vacation went well…UNTIL…on my second to last day, I narrowly escaped death at the hands of a massive and ravenous Great White shark.

What happened is this…as I exited the water with my toddler son, I glanced east along the beach and saw…something. I stopped and focused my gaze to the spot where there was an anomaly in the water. There was a group of about ten kids playing on flotation devices in that exact spot and my mind raced back to the movie Jaws, where a little kid, Alex Kintner, gets eaten by the shark while riding on a flotation deviced, blood splattering everywhere. I could feel the camera zoom in on my face just like it had on Chief Brody when he saw the shark attack Alex Kintner on the flotation device…my mouth went agape as I saw…something!

Then the lifeguard blew their whistle and frantically yelled for everyone to get out of the water. I threw my son to my wife and ran down the beach towards the commotion. People were standing in my way so I courageously knocked them over and pushed them into the water in order to keep a barrier between me and the hungry shark. Then…the beast poked its massive head above the water, baring its razor sharp teeth…it was as clear as day…it was horrifying…it was a ferocious….SEAL!!!

To be clear…I’ve seen seals before…but this seal was absolutely massive. He deceptively rolled over onto his stomach in a playful manner and dove under and surfaced again, much to the delight of the crowds gathered at the beach but I wasn’t fooled. I knew that I had just come within inches of being mauled by a shark…because as everyone knows…where there are seals…there are sharks!

I was assured by the same liars and deniers who told me that a seal had never been spotted on this beach before that the seal I just saw was just “lost”. “Lost” my ass..that seal knew EXACTLY what it was doing. And regardless of whether this seal is “lost” or not...what is to stop a “lost” Great White from following this seal, coming to this beach and taking a giant bite out of my obviously delectable ass?

In conclusion…when I say I survived a shark attack what I mean is that I saw a seal playing about twenty feet from the shore at a part of the beach where I wasn’t swimming. This was a close call indeed.

©2019

Solo: A Star Wars Story - A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 2.75 out of 5 stars           Popcorn Curve* Rating: 3.5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. An enjoyable and well paced movie. Not Oscar material, but a good old fashioned bit of big budget entertainment. 

Solo: A Star Wars Story, written by Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan and directed by Ron Howard*, is the origin story of that lovable and charming rogue, Han Solo, from the original Star Wars films. The movie stars Alden Ehrenreich as Solo with supporting turns from Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson and Donald Glover.

As I have stated many times before, I am more a Planet of the Apes devotee than a Star Wars guy, and so I would consider myself to be, at best, a marginal Star Wars fan. I do thoroughly enjoy the underlying mythology of the franchise but have often found the cinematic execution of that mythology to be a bit lacking at times. My moderation when it comes to all things Star Wars can be both a blessing and a curse, as it means I never get too excited over a new Star Wars movie, but I also never get too downtrodden if it fails to be transcendent. 

With all of that said, before I saw Solo my starting point was that I had very, very low expectations. Those low expectations were born out of the swamp of bad press the film has been receiving for well over a year now. The whispers of problems turned into a scream last June when Dear Leader Mickey Mouse fired the original directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, six months into shooting.

The Disney politburo then followed up this stunning move by bringing in the ultimate vanilla studio hack Ron Howard to do reshoots and finish production. Hollywood was abuzz over the beheading of Lord and Miller by Disney hatchet woman, Obergruppenfuhrer Kathleen Kennedy, and news of very costly re-shoots bloating the film's budget only fueled the spreading wildfire of bad buzz that can cripple a big budget movie. 

That bad buzz came to fruition when on opening night, a good friend of mine, let's call him Doug, who is a stalwart Star Wars nerd, went to a 10 pm showing (in costume, of course) with his wife here in Los Angeles, and they were the only ones in the theater. Another friend of mine went to opening night in Minneapolis and suffered the same fate sans costume. 

Empty theaters on opening night for a Star Wars movie was a strong indicator that Darth Mickey had a big bust on his hands with Solo. The subsequent box office numbers were underwhelming, at least when compared to other Star Wars movies, and so the media narrative was now set in stone…Solo was a bomb. Headlines abounded on the internet questioning if Solo was the beginning of the end for the Star Wars franchise, some articles pondered if audiences stayed away because the film wasn't diverse enough (eye roll!). 

It was in the midst of this negativity storm that out of a sense of duty to my vocation as a film critic, I snuck off to see Solo. I was so sure that Solo would be awful that I was trying to come up with a clever little spin on the old joke about the bad singer who is implored to "sing a solo…so-low we can't hear you". 

But then I ran into a problem…I went and saw Solo and lo and behold I ended up really enjoying it. Midway through the film I actually thought to myself, "you know what...this is an entertaining romp". Why I was using the term "romp" is a mystery to me as is makes me sound like some hackneyed reviewer like Rex Reed or something, but the truth is…Solo really is a fun romp!

As someone who loathes Ron Howard films, it is difficult for me to give him credit for Solo's success, so I will simply say it is to the credit of all three directors on the film, Lord, Miller and Howard, that the pacing of the movie is so well-done. There is virtually no wasted time or energy in Solo, and it never loses steam and moves at a very compelling clip. 

Another reason why the film is so darn entertaining is the lead actor Alden Ehrenreich.  Ehrenreich is in a tough spot, recreating an iconic role, Han Solo, created by Harrison Ford, but having to devolve the character into an earlier iteration of itself. Ehrenreich tactically increases the swagger and the snark to near adolescent levels at times which ends up being quite effective. To his credit, Ehrenreich possesses the sheer charisma and charm to carry the entire Solo enterprise, which is a talent you simply cannot teach a young actor, they either have it or they don't. 

Being a movie star is a tough gig, as you must have the energy, stamina, force of will, ambition and dynamic magnetism to carry the weight of a major motion picture, all while being continuously beautiful and charming. When I first noticed Ehrenreich it was in the Warren Beatty directed film Rules Don't Apply. The film is abysmal and I only watched maybe a half hour of it on cable, but in that brief time Ehrenreich made me sit up in my seat and say "who is that?" For whatever reason he just jumped off the screen, and no doubt casting people had the same reaction as he made quite a leap going from Rules Don't Apply to the iconic title character in Solo. (as a side note the actress playing opposite Ehrenreich in Rules Don't Apply also jumped off the screen at me, she was beautiful and talented, her name is Lily Collins, and after looking into her I discovered she is famed pop star Phill Collin's daughter...keep and eye out for her)

Ehrenreich's skill is impressive in Solo as he never falls into the trap of caricature when playing Han Solo. His Solo is a real life human being, trying to make his way in the world and find out who he really is, or at least what identity he will adopt. This may be blasphemy to Star Wars fans, but I am telling you, Ehrenreich's Han Solo is a considerably more complex and better acting job that Harrison Ford's version ever was. 

As for the rest of the cast, for the most part they all do solid and steady work. Emilia Clarke is her usual luminous self as Qi-ra. Clarke is both alluring and approachable and she imbues Qi-ra with an unspoken mysterious wound that makes the character very compelling.

Woody Harrelson continues his streak of doing quality work in big budget franchise films by playing Tobias Beckett in Solo, a sort of criminal mentor to the young Han Solo. Harrelson has really evolved into a superb actor, and while he doesn't have a hell of a lot to work with in Solo, he makes the very most of what he does have. 

Donald Glover plays the young Lando Calrissian, and while he often feels like he is simply doing a spot-on Billy Dee Williams impersonation, he does it with enough panache and style to make it enjoyable. 

The one dour note on the acting is Paul Bettany as Dryden Vos. Vos is a big time crime lord and Bettany simply lacks the gravitas and menace to be able to pull off the character with any believability. I later learned that Michael K. Williams was originally cast in the role and shot the majority of it but when Howard was brought aboard to direct Williams was replaced by Bettany because his schedule conflicted with re-shoots. This is a shame as Williams is a far superior actor to Bettany, and in this role I can only imagine how fantastic he would've been. 

Besides Solo himself, the two best characters in the film are the droid L3 and Chewbacca. Both of these characters have very intriguing and poignant story lines that are rich with political and cultural meaning…so much so that I would love to see a stand alone film about either character or both. I doubt that will ever happen, but it SHOULD happen. 

Solo is still getting a lot of bad press and the box office is only going to continue to disappoint its voracious Disney overlords, but in my opinion it was an entertaining movie. It is more akin to Chinese food than Filet Mignon, as it ultimately doesn't stay with you long after you see it, but that doesn't mean it is an abject failure. Solo entertained me, and to me that makes it a success.

If you want to lose yourself for two hours of big budget Star Wars fun then Solo is the film for you..and if you have no one to go see it with you, then do what I did and see it solo!! (See what I did there? That is a play on words…the film is titled Solo and I said to see it solo…just one more bit of evidence proving how clever I am!!). If you want a transcendent cinematic experience that will give deeper meaning and purpose to your life…better to sit this one out. 

*The Popcorn Curve judges a film based on its entertainment merits as a franchise/blockbuster movie, as opposed to my regular rating system which judges a film solely on its cinematic and artistic merits.

©2018

War for the Planet of the Apes : A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

My Rating : 4.8 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation : SEE IT NOW!!!

War for the Planet of the Apes, directed by Matt Reeves and written by Reeves and Mark Bomback, is the third installment of the recent "Caesar trilogy" of Planet of the Apes films. The movie tells the story of the chimpanzee Caesar and his band of intelligent apes as they do battle against the humans trying to exterminate them. The film stars Andy Serkis as Caesar, with supporting roles played by Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn and Karin Konoval.

I am admittedly an ardent Planet of the Apes freak. As a kid I went "ape" for the original film Planet of the Apes starring Charlton Heston and Roddy McDowell, and all four of the sequels, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Conquest of the Planet for the Apes and Battle for the Planet of the Apes. Most kids of my generation were Star Wars fanatics, but I was a Planet of the Apes guy. I had Planet of the Apes action figures, a Planet of the Apes lunchbox and even a Planet of the Apes board game. More than once I dressed as the Cornelius character from the The Planet of the Apes movies for Halloween.

My love of the "Apes" films did not diminish as I grew older, it actually broadened. As I became more intellectually aware I enjoyed the Planet of the Apes films not just for their mythology and science fiction, but also as for their very smart and insightful social and political commentary. The original Planet of the Apes films courageously delved into the culturally relevant topics of racism, class, race relations, nuclear war and militarism with an intelligence and force absent from much more "serious" movies.

The reason I bring up my long love affair with Planet of the Apes is because I think my feelings for this new film need some context. I loved the old Apes movies (I loathed the Tim Burton 2001 Planet of the Apes which should be exiled out past the Forbidden Zone!!) and I was so pleasantly surprised and thrilled with the newer additions to the franchise, starting with the finely crafted Rise of the Planet of the Apes in 2011, followed by Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which wasn't as good as Rise of the Planet of the Apes but was still worthwhile. What I am trying to say is that I love a great Ape movie…and I despise a shitty one…I'm looking at you Tim Burton, you lousy son of a bitch. 

Which brings me to the new Planet of the Apes movie, War for the Planet of the Apes. I can say, without the slightest hesitation, that War for the Planet of the Apes is an astonishingly spectacular film, one of the very best of the year. War for the Planet of the Apes is a big, blockbuster summer movie sequel, that is for sure, but it is also a real, honest to goodness film that tells a genuine, deeply personal, intimate, emotional story while also revealing greater truths about humanity and the state of our world.  

As a filmmaking exercise, War for the Planet of the Apes is staggeringly well made. Cinematically the film is stunningly gorgeous. The CGI is impeccable, as there is never a moment when you don't think you are watching real life, except with talking monkeys. It is simply crazy how great the special effects are in this movie. The attention to physical detail on all the ape characters is beyond exquisite. 

The decision to shoot the film in a cold, snowy, winter climate was a brilliant one as well. The blue and white colors of the scenery accentuate the exacting beauty of the apes and also fortify the sub-text of the personal, emotional winter through which the main characters must journey and endure. The cold weather and the accompanying condensation of breath is the type of detail and specificity that give the film a genuine authenticity and elevates it to the sublime.

 

As for the story, well, War for the Planet of the Apes feels biblical because it is biblical. The film's protagonist, Caesar, marvelously played by CGI master actor Andy Serkis, is a cross between Moses, Jesus Christ and even Noah. In the context of the Planet of the Apes canon, this story is meant to be be biblical (with God even making an appearance), as it is the basis for the ape civilizations founding religious and civic text, The Sacred Scrolls, upon which the Planet of the Apes mythology is based. In this ape dominant universe, future young apes will study the story of Caesar that we have witnessed in in Dawn, Rise and War for the Planet of the Apes in their Sacred Scrolls just as we humans have studied Moses, Noah and Christ in the bible. The similarities between Caesar and Christ, in particular, are very striking but subtly delivered, as director Reeves uses a deft touch to convey that delicious metaphor. 

Maybe the greatest thing about War for the Planet of the Apes, among the plethora of great things about it, is that it fits in perfectly with the Planet of the Apes universe and mythology, and has a consistent and coherent internal logic and rationality to it that never flounders. Standing alone the film makes entire sense, but in the canon of Planet of the Apes movies, it is even more illuminating.  One could go from watching War for the Planet of the Apes to watching the original 1968 Charlton Heston Planet of the Apes and not miss a beat. That creative coherence is a testament to Reeves and his commitment to, and respect for, the gloriously fertile source material. 

Reeves also makes an enlightened choice to pay homage to another of my favorite films, Apocalypse Now throughout War for the Planet of the Apes. The signs and symbols of Coppola's classic film about war and madness set in Vietnam are scattered throughout the movie, none more so obvious than Woody Harrelson's portrayal of The Colonel, a Kilgore-esque, god-like Special Forces leader who is out to exterminate apes with extreme prejudice and by any means necessary. Harrelson does a terrific job as The Colonel, bringing an imposing sense of power to the role of which I didn't think he was capable. Harrelson is an under appreciated actor who has evolved to be quite the craftsmen and he is an unnerving joy to behold as The Colonel.

The other actors of note are all playing apes, so most would think the CGI does all the hard work, but that is a terribly misguided assumption. Andy Serkis is once again rock solid as Caesar, making the ape leader more a human/ape hybrid than just a miniature King Kong. Serkis has played Caesar for three films now, and the most amazing thing about his performance is that he has made a chimpanzee into a quintessential Hollywood leading man. Caesar is not quite as interesting or entertaining as his fellow bonobo, gorilla or orangutan comrades, but he has been able to carry three very successful and high quality films to great box office success. Caesar, who is a cross between 1970's Clint Eastwood and 1940's Henry Fonda, may be the best leading man Hollywood has going for it right now compared to all of our other modern movie stars, and that is a monumental achievement and testament to the skill and talent of Andy Serkis.

The stand out performance in the film though is from Steve Zahn, who is a very accomplished actor in his own right without any CGI assistance. Zahn plays Bad Ape, and he steals the show. Bad Ape is, in keeping with the Apocalypse Now theme, like Dennis Hopper's photojournalist character in Francis Coppola's masterpiece. Bad Ape is both comedy relief and a holy fool. Zahn's Bad Ape is both funny and touching and is a revelatory piece of work. The CGI of Bad Ape is almost as stunning as that of the orangutan Maurice and is every bit the equal to Zahn's exceptional work in the role. 

Karin Konoval plays the aforementioned orangutan Maurice, and although he communicates through sign language, Maurice has the most palpable sense of humanity about him. Maurice and his CGI are truly a stupendous work of art and may be the most beautiful thing to appear on film in recent memory. But it is the delicate skill of Karin Konoval that gives Maurice a gentle spirit and intelligence that is so tangible and compelling as to be miraculous. 

In conclusion, I have intentionally not given much information in this review so as to not taint anyone's viewing experience of War for the Planet of the Apes. I was enraptured from the get go by this film and I would not want to ruin the movie going experience for anyone else. That said, I am incapable of saying whether a non-Planet of the Apes fan would love this movie as passionately as I did. I do think that non-Planet of the Apes fans will thoroughly enjoy this movie as just a stand alone piece of entertainment and quality filmmaking, I just don't know if it will resonate with them as personally and on as deep a level as it did with me. 

As a Planet of the Apes fan, I can say without hesitation that this is the perfect Apes movie, and is easily the very best of all of the Planet of the Apes films ever made. I am a grown man and this movie about talking monkeys was able to make me cry, cheer, seethe and squirm. That is a testament not only to Matt Reeves stellar direction, but to his respect for the deep mythology and history of the the Planet of the Apes franchise and universe. I wholeheartedly encourage anyone and everyone to go see this film. You simply will not find a finer or better made summer blockbuster movie that is also a top-notch and serious piece of filmmaking. What are you waiting for…GO. SEE. IT. NOW.

©2017