Thursday, 28 June 2012

All Quiet on the Western Front (Lewis Milestone, 1930)

"Up at the front you're alive or you're dead and that's all. You can't fool anybody about that very long. And up there we know we're lost and done for whether we're dead or alive."


After many weeks of Planet of the Apes, we are back to some true classic staples of Pre-1977 cinema. Initially published as a book in 1928, All Quiet on the Western Front became successful due to its description of the brutal physical and mental struggle soldiers endured during World War I. In a fascinating twist, the book was banned by Nazi Germany and burned. Told from the perspective of the German's, it is a film that established itself further in history as it swept the big two awards at the Oscars - both Best Director for Lewis Milestone and Outstanding Production (The 'Best Picture' of its day). At a time, in between the two biggest wars the world has ever seen, this film would go to inspire Spielberg and Kubrick, and cannot be ignored as an essential film of the War genre.

Inspirational Story

The story presents a group of school boys who are inspired to fight in the war by their school master - they would be fighting "for their Fatherland": Germany. Considering it is portraying German soldiers in a sympathetic light, there is a slight understanding towards the decision by Universal to alter the film when re-releasing the film between 1939 and through to 1980. In 2000, Universal ensured a full restoration. The episodic nature of the the film could be broken into mini-chunks and, in this respect, could've inspired Band of Brothers. Stories relating to the training under a senior officer who worked as a postman prior to the war is similar to the character of David Schwimmer in the HBO mini-series. This then leads to scenes portraying the men first witnessing death and sequences which show characters killing other men. The struggles they go through are harrowing and give a shocking insight into the horrors these men endured.

By starting the film with a large group we know as viewers that, throughout the film, the men lose their life. Some die from injuries on the front line. Some men die of mental illnesses whilst others die of an obsession with home. This is the large scale the film works upon. Milestone depicts close, personal conversations between the men - and contrasts this with fights on the battlefield. Even the sequences at war look similar to those we would see on a documentary. Milestone puts us in the middle of the action - and forces us to confront the horror.

The film is almost bookended by the speech the school master is giving to the children at the school. At the start of the film we see him inspire a complete class to get up, celebrate the end of school, and set off to be on the front line. Our lead character Paul (Lew Ayres) revisits the school and witnesses the school master giving the same speech to a group of younger men. Paul steps in and tries to explain the real cost of serving "the Fatherland" but the children shout at him as the school master looks on confused and unimpressed
Horror of War

During the story, specific sequences are unforgettable. In an early story, new recruit Behm (Walter Rogers), witnesses death alongside the group and clearly cannot stomach it. We then witness his death as the group put up barbed-wire. He screams out in agony "I'm blind" and Milestone doesn't cut away. We watch, alongside the new recruits, this poor boy stumbling around waiting for the peace of death.

Franz Kemmerich (Ben Alexander) is another interesting character. A man who takes great pride in his history as he is deeply attached to his boots - boots which were worn by his Grandad. Whenever I think about World War I, I always think about the range of diseases many men recieved through the awful conditions in the trenches. Wearing boots weeks on end before falling victim to the condition commonly called "Trench Foot" ("a condition in the feet where they started off by wrinkling up like when you’ve been in the bath too long, but as time goes on, blisters developed and the pain for the soldiers was immense"). Kemmerich is wounded and a fellow soldier, Mueller (Russell Gleason), asks for his boots. Initially shocked at his request, it transpires that Kemmerich id dying and Paul reluctantly carries the boots to Mueller after his death. The following few scenes show the boots passed from one soldier to another, until we see a soldier shot down and then piled onto a truck amongst other bodies. It seems that on the battlefield - your love for your family and your past means little.
Every character, it seems, has a different story to tell. And they all have differing attitudes to war. Some give the impression that they thrive off of it. Others desperately want to go home. The repeated use of the phrase "well, at least you're goin' home" clearly shows how soldiers would achieve great solace from knowing this, despite huge illnesses. In shots of the soldiers at the end of the film, you can recall small snippets of a story from each of them - and you believe in them. Which makes the story so much more tragic.

Value of Life

I wanted to discuss a specific scene which, like Paths of Glory, aggressively attacks the very nature of war. At one point, Paul becomes ecstatic when Kemmerich passes. He says he feels alive and hungry - but it is short lived when he is involved in an attack through a cemetery. Paul is forced to stab a French soldier - close proximity, a real taste of the murder soldiers need to commit to keep themselves alive. In the hole, he lays with the soldier all night and starts talking to himself. He hopes the man is alive. He wants to help him survive - but he also knows he should see him as the enemy. He can see it is just another man on the opposite side of the track. He is frustrated because when it comes down to it, it is simply one man killing another. Patriotism, in this hold, with this man, does not exist.

At Home with a Flag

Possibly the most iconic moment in the film is when Paul returns to his school master. I managed to find a monologue-version of this final sequence (in the film, the school master "ifs" and "buts" during the sequence). He challenges the nature of patriotism and the completely detached-manner that others, safe at home, live their lives. The politics and discussions are arrogant, delusional and false.

I can’t say anything…I can’t tell you anything you don’t know. We live in the trenches out there. We fight. We try not to be killed; sometimes we are. That’s all… I’ve been there! I know what it’s like…. I heard you in here reciting that same old stuff, making more iron men, more young heroes. You still think it’s beautiful and sweet to die for your country, don’t you? We used to think you knew. The first bombardment taught us better. It’s dirty and painful to die for your country. When it comes to dying for your country, it’s better not to die at all. There are millions out there dying for their countries, and what good is it?…You asked me to tell them how much they’re needed out there. He tells you, ‘Go out and die.’ Oh, but if you’ll pardon me, it’s easier to say ‘go out and die’ than it is to do it….And it’s easier to say it than to watch it happen…

The film ends as Paul dies, reaching for a butterfly. He desperately seeks the gentle grace and beauty of life - but he is shot (by a similar-looking soldier to the one he killed himself). This is a film which documents a time whereby war was real and many young men died for their country. Upon watching All Quiet on the Western Front, I believe those deaths are not in vain - but that they were sent to their death by those who don't understand the value of life. And maybe war itself degrades the beauty and grace of life.

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Sunday, 24 June 2012

The Weekly Review: 24/06/2012

A weekly round-up of what I have been watching, listening to and discussing. Rather than just posts about film, this is a bit more all-encompassing as I think my interest in cinema and art crosses over and between a variety of sources...

Very few films this week. I have been completely immersed in The Simpsons. Blame a boxset I have not watched yet. Blame a fantastic Season 8. Blame whatever you like, but film ultimately took a back seat.

Highlight of the Week

The Lammys: It really has kicked off this week. I love this time of year and I'm excited about the future of The LAMB. We've yet to hear from the LAMB who is Best Blog, but I think it has been a fascinating year with some great outcomes. For me personally, what I'm going to do, is go through my Google Reader and stop following a huge bunch of blogs because I have realised I am losing track. I have followed too many and therefore don't use it as effectively. I don't visit some sites that I 'joined' years ago whilst there are many blogs out there which I don't visit often enough (or realised I don't even follow) - and clearly should. Specifically, I hope to become much more active on French Toast Sunday, Cinema Sights and Fog's Movie Reviews. These are site which, though I knew about, for some reason or another I haven't given enough time too. But this will change now. I'm also spending [possibly too much] time on the LAMB forums, which is alot of fun. If you are a LAMB, get in on that:


Warrior: Yeah, it was alright. But I felt the entire film was like a tick-list. Imagine the boardroom meeting: "How can we have twice as many fights as a normal boxing movie?"/"I know, lets show two characters with their own separate stories in a martial-arts-type-boxing tournament". Two more characters in the story and the film would simply show every match in the tournament!

The Bourne Identity: I will re-release my negative overview of this film. I stand by the film being weaker than the sequels, but I think I "get" why people like it now.

The Bourne Supremacy: The strongest story in the franchise. So far.

The Bourne Ultimatum: The best action-sequences in the franchise. Bring on Jeremey Renner...

All Quiet on the Western Front: For the 'Classic Columb'...


The LAMBcast: Listened to the whole Brian VS The World episode and it was great. I'm not a big fan of Scott Pilgrim VS The World. I get why people like it, but there is something a little smug about the whole film. I'm a little bit more convinced about how bad a film it is ... and I thank Brian for his insight to this. I also think the seven opponents he had were completely beat!

The Fugees: Listened to 'The Score' and damn, it is so good. Something so personal and yet passionate about the songs and lyrics. Brilliant music.

TV/Theatre/Art Galleries/Books/Misc

The Simpsons - As mentioned, halfway through the eighth season and I am keen to keep watching. Also began tweeting an animator on the show. What an amazing job! As mentioned on Twitter/Facebook - Space Coyote is a badass.

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rupert Wyatt, 2011)

"We gave him a gene therapy that allows the brain to create it own cells in order to repair itself. We call it the Cure to Alzheimer's."


The final part of my posts not only covers the latest film in the series, it also represents the beginning of the new future for the saga. There is something quite satisfying when you know that this film, through honouring the previous films, manages to also set-up a franchise for the future - with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes due to hit in 2014. Rupert Wyatt chooses two actors - James Franco and Freida Pinto (Interestingly, stars of Danny Boyle's Oscar-nominated 127 Hours and Oscar-Winning Slumdog Millionaire repectively) - to lead the film. It is an approach to the franchise which we last saw in Conquest for the Planet of the Apes though. This time we see the true rise of the Apes ... rather than the rise of the Apes once Zira and Cornelius screwed up the natural timeline.
Abuse of Animals, Abuse of Power

Unlike Burton's attempt, Wyatt harks back to first film but flips the themes around. No deeper subtext from the outset. It is clear as day - animals are treated badly. The opening sequence sets up a group who capture a considerable amount of chimpanzees, due to be sent to the USA for experimentation. I want to write how it "raises all sorts of questions regarding treatment of animals and abuse of animals in captivity", these same questions were tackled in the first Planet of the Apes, but in a slightly different manner - turning the tables on Charlton Heston's 'Taylor'.

Unlike the first film, I believe that by portraying the abuse of animals so clearly, it begs the question as to whether there is a further parallel to a societal issue. The language of the the Landons (Brain Cox and Tom Felton), the abusers, is about power, dominance and control.
"You will learn to know who's boss"
is one line which feels as if the parallel is the abuse of power others wield within an educated society. The idea that those who are powerful in society abuse the control they have. Those who have power also have a duty and responsibility to look after those who are more unfortunate. As this is an enclosure, hidden behind closed doors, it is implied that the issue is rooted within Western society.

Capitalism as the New God

The narrative runs alongside the life of Will Rodman (James Franco). He is a doctor employed by a pharmaceutical company ran by Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) - but there is a conflict of interests. Rodman is motivated by the pursuit of knowledge (a theme in all the films) and personal-interest in curing disease - specifically Alzeheimers, which his Father (John Lithgow) has. His passion for this cure is not financially-motivated and nor is it through an aspiration for power and control. We are clear that this is an honest and just cause. It is Jacobs who is motivated by financial-gain - and he has power and control over Rodman. We are in a world whereby, for some reason, the pursuit of knowledge and the dream of curing disease is second to profit and wealth.

It is the same as what is happening in the Landon's ape sanctuary. He does not value the life of the animals, and his son has been brought up no doubt to feel the same. The same capitalist attitude Jacobs holds is akin to Landons - except, in societies eyes, Jacobs is an acceptable abuse of power whilst Landon's we can all agree is wrong. The priorities in society are wrong. The apes are used, abused and killed for the sake of the ol' dollar. Indeed, Rodman is used for the sake of money. These conflicts will inevitably create a revolution as those without power and without control fight for what is rightfully theirs - a right to equality.

The Future

The last five years have been dominated by economical frustrations. The recession, the bankers and the capitalist model for society simply failing hard-working families. I believe The Dark Knight Rises will be tackling this very issue - and I believe Batman Begins and The Dark Knight hint at economic inequality - this is very much a theme for Hollywood too. Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I believe, is about the rise of awareness in this climate. Social-networking means more people talk about the issue and their voice, outside of these networks, will be heard. Social change can be much quicker in this current age as people understand better and see the injustice.

After a rewatch, Rise of the Planet of the Apes isn't perfect. Some scenes fall flat and the special effects aren't superb, but there is something real and relevant about what we are watching. Even the relationship between Caroline Aranha (Frieda Pinto) and Rodman is a given - no unnecessary romantic cliches, they simply are. The camera movements swoop and rotate, crashing through buildings as the Apes annihilate San Francisco but what is engaging - scratch that - fascinating, is the deeper meanings that are consistent with the franchise. Rise of the Planet of the Apes flips the story around in every way except one thing is missing: God. The huge discussion about religion and God that features so prominently in Planet of the Apes and Beneath the Planet of the Apes is completely missing and instead, it is replaced by money and capitalism. A regressive tax-system that celebrates wealth over the common good. Money is the new God.

The brute force and dominance of the ape over powers every ounce of wealth the 'system' provides. These apes operate on trust, loyalty and support - not profitability or a carefully-considered work-life balance. Do we trust the free-press when they hack the phone-lines of grieving parents? Are we loyal to parties that change their manifestos once they gain the seat? Indeed, are they loyal to us when they go-back on the promises they claimed in the run-up to election? Do we feel supported when taxes hit teachers and doctors whilst no one is held accountable for the deep recession we find ourselves in? Trust, loyalty and support. When you think about it, there is a reason we cheer the apes on during their attack and escape from San Franciso - and its not because they're cute. It's because they're us.
Large Association of Movie Blogs

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Best Episode of The Simpsons? Season 7: 22 Short Films About Springfield

In an attempt to get completely up-to-date on one of my favourite TV-series The Simpsons, after I watch each season, I will choose my favourite episode...

I had three which I considered. Alongside this episode, I considered 'Marge Be Not Proud' (An episode whereby Bart stole a computer game) and the final episode of the Season, 'Summer of 4ft 2' (Lisa gaining some new friends when on Holiday, including Christina Ricci). Personally, (possibly because I just bought the Blu-Ray of Pulp Fiction) to see reference to such a favourite film of mine was great to see - and the concept of 22, roughly-1-minute-films, crammed into one-episode was daring and brave. But worked!

Written by vitually everyone involved in the series (the credits completely dominate the screen in the first minute of the episode), it was inspired by a add-on sequence at the end of a Season 4 episode: 'The Front'. In 'The Front', an extra minute of the episode became 'The Adventures of Ned Flanders'. This segment combined with Pulp Fiction became the basis for the episode, with multiple skits 'introduced' with titles (E.g "Cletus the Slack Jawed Yokel", "Skinner & The Superintendent" and "The Tomfoolery of Professor John Frink").

This is what The Simpsons can do so well. Taking something 'of the time' and twisting it into a parody. It is one thing if you turn a single parody into an entire film - Date Movie, Epic Movie et al - but, in one twenty minute episode, with characters we know and love, it becomes so much fun.

The stories are endless. A great plot which we come back-and-forth from is Lisa who has bubblegum thrown in her hair while Marge's 'solution' is to add more - peanut butter, mayonnaise, etc. My favourite character remains as 'Comic Book Guy', and we see him briefly as Milhouse desperately needs the toilet and hopes the comic-book shop will let him use the toilet. I can't list them all here, and it is the fluidity of the episode which makes it so strong. Not to mention how they flip-around the Nelson 'Ha-ha' joke to completely destroy Nelson.

Best sequence/lines ... and it has to be an obvious Pulp Fiction reference: 

Lou: You know, I went to the McDonald's in Shelbyville on Friday night --
Wiggum: [interrupting] The McWhat?
Lou: Uh, the McDonald's.  I, I never heard of it either, but they have over 2,000 locations in this state alone.
Eddie: Must've sprung up overnight.
Lou: You know, the funniest thing though; it's the little differences.
Wiggum: Example.
Lou: Well, at McDonald's you can buy a Krusty Burger with cheese, right?  But they don't call it a Krusty Burger with cheese.
Wiggum: Get out!  Well, what do they call it?
Lou: A Quarter Pounder with cheese.
Wiggum: Quarter Pounder with cheese?  Well, I can picture the cheese, but, uh, do they have Krusty partially gelatinated non-dairy gum-based beverages?
Lou: Mm-hm.  They call 'em, "shakes."
Eddie: Huh, shakes.  You don't know what you're gettin' -- Don't think you want to know,

Nb - I think my personal favourite joke of the entire season is not in any of the episodes I've mentioned but most people will never forget it if they have seen, and know who, Lester and Eliza are...

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Monday, 18 June 2012

Incredible Soundtrack #23: Drive (Martinez)

The music attached to a film creates the environment, I believe, moreso than the literal environment depicted through the visuals...

Though I have not written an analysis, I have stated my stance regarding Drive before. I don't think the film is as good as people make out - it's well made, granted, but it isn't flawless. The soundtrack on the other hand is definitely one of the high points. The film would be ruined without it - seriously, without the soundtrack the film would never get such strong supporters.

Martinez's soundtrack is electronic, evoking the cool of the eighties. I personally think that Drive owes it's style to Grand Theft Auto: Vice City rather than any mark of genius accredited to Winding Refn - and a soundtrack identifying the same era clearly is a necessity if you are trying to place the film in the same type of world.

Interestingly, my choice of tracks are by artists other than Cliff Martinez ... but they all feature on the soundtrack so are very much under Martinez's juristiction

1. Nightcall by Kavinsky and Lovefoxxx - Apparently, Winding Refn chose this song himself  after looking through Johnny Jewel's back-catalogue (Jewel was apparently a 'mixer' for the soundtrack)

2 - Under the Spell by Desire - Akin to Nightcall, this was another amazing track from Johnny Jewel.

5 - Tick of the Clock by The Chromatics - This song was used only recently in an advert for a camera. As soon as it played I knew it. I think Matrinez's entire soundtrack owes something to this song. Moody, steady - very-much like a patient, skilled driver. Again, this is a track which Johnny Jewel is credited for.

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Sunday, 17 June 2012

The Weekly Review: 17/06/2012

A weekly round-up of what I have been watching, listening to and discussing. Rather than just posts about film, this is a bit more all-encompassing as I think my interest in cinema and art crosses over and between a variety of sources...

Slowly getting used-to waking at 6am again. Always a tough get-up, but I did manage to watch lots of good films this week. Well, not 'good' maybe, but films ...

Highlight of the Week

Animal Kingdom: A close friend has just moved to London and as a filmmaker himself, I look forward to lots of film-watching, filmmaking and conversations about what Jurassic Park 4 could possibly be about. We had a film-night during the week, watching Animal Kingdom - a film he had not seen before, whilst I had not seen it for at least a year - despite buying it on Blu-Ray six-months ago. It is still fascinating, and a favourite film of 2011, but I can appreciate how if you didn't like the passive, detached lead character Joshua (James Frecheville), then it would be a tough watch. The kisses from 'Mum' (Jacki Weaver) is also so uncomfortable to watch.


Batman Returns - The best of the four-film anthology between 1989 and 1997. Tim Burton takes his gloves off and goes completely gothic with his interpretation.

Batman Forever - A little bit too nuts I'm afraid and Tommy Lee Jones seems uncomfortable whilst Jim Carrey goes OTT. Val Kilmer just seems bored whilst Nicole Kidman acts out a role that simply seems to be ... offensive.

Batman and Robin - It is alot of fun watching this. And I would take the ridiculous of Arnie's 'Mr Freeze' anyday over Two-Face in Batman Forever. Ume Thurman's role is simply tragic - she seems to be giving it her all, but it just doesn't work. George Clooney is just out-of-place in this role whilst I can recall why I fancied Alicia Silverstone when I was younger.

Animal Kingdom - See Above


Now Playing Podcast - I have really got into this podcast ever since Ol' Shep Burman recommended it to me after my Rocky-writing on Man I Love Films. At least all the pain of watching Batman and Robin was worth it when I could laugh along with Arnie, Stu and Jakob discussing the film. I do not condone the recommendation of Batman Forever, but I completely agree with the single-recommendation of Batman and Robin. So bad, it is funny.

Slash Film - Adam Quigley didn't like Prometheus, Why am I not suprised.

The Matineecast - Only just started this podcast-listen, so I haven't heard the discussion on Prometheus (Blame the drilling near London Bridge on my commute) but to think that Ryan is now at a stage whereby 'Know Your Enemy' has three rounds of questions simply shows how well he has done. I think what I love about these questions is that you inevitably ask yourself the same questions when you listen - and its a tough one to answer. I also like how Ryan holds the guest accountable for not-watching the film 'classic' they hadn't seen in their first round of questions. It could easily go: "Have you watched Conan the Barbarian yet?"/ "No"/"Well then how can you call yourself a film fan?" [guest feels suitably embarressed and shamed]

TV/Theatre/Art Galleries/Books/Misc

The Simpsons - I have completely stalled on my watching. but it seems I may be able to finished Season 7 within the hour. Its a tough thing to consider - am I getting behind because the series is getting weaker or is it because, since Christmas, I have watched every episode since Season One?

Disney War by James B. Stewart - I started reading this when we visited Zagreb and put it down on return. About the political struggles within the company under the leadership of Michael Eisner. I've only just got into it so... expect it to reappear next week...

Tate Modern - I revisited (kerrching on the membership!) the Damien Hirst exhibition with Sarah. Interesting fact is how an art-piece named A Thousand Years (1991) shows a decapitated cows-head amongst desperate flies, dying in an electrocutor. We were told that the cows-head is replaced by a different head each week. But without maggots emerging (something which was famously criticised about the original piece), there is question hanging over whether it is an actual cows-head at all. I would assume it is not - but clearly, the ambiguity of this set-up means that we are supposed to believe it is a real head.
Large Association of Movie Blogs

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Planet of the Apes (Tim Burton, 2001)

"I think it's fair to call this hostile territory"


It is strange how, in a week whereby I watch Batman (I was not happy about that film) and Batman Returns for the first time, I then write about another previously-owned property, Tim-Burton-ised for a new audience. He claimed it was a 're-imagining' of the original Planet of the Apes film. Since the end of the original saga, the film was in development in different stages from 1988. Over many years with a wide range of directors (Peter Jackson, Chris Columbus, James Cameron, Sam Raimi, Oliver Stone) and a diverse possibility of actors (Tom Cruise, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Charlie Sheen), it seems the reboot of Planet of the Apes could've been anything. Arnie, the 'scientist' travelling back in time? A half-humn, half-ape creature within the Ape version of the Renaissance? A "sword and sandal spectacular" set within an Ape version of the Roman civilisation? These were all considered ... but it eventually fell to Gothic Tim Burton signing on to direct and Richard D. Zanuck producing.

The Scale Roddy McDowell Dreamed Of...

The problem with the earlier saga was how small in scale it was. The idea of Apes taking over the world simply didn't have the same effect when you only see the apes fighting within car parks and in spaces which are clearly stage-sets. From the opening scene we see what we had never seen before - lots of space. Bar Taylor's (Charlton Heston) brief introduction at the start of Planet of the Apes, we never truly see the wide, expansive galaxy that earth hovers within. Even in Escape from the Planet of the Apes, whereby Zira and Cornelius crash-land on earth and tell us how earth was destroyed, we don't see their journey.

Tim Burton, and his $100m budget ensures that we see all of space. Our hero is Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg), an astronaut on board a mothership which trains apes to explore areas which are unsafe. Davidson's favourite chimpanzee is sent into an electro-magnetic storm and, without question, Davidson decides to save him when it is clear that he has been 'lost. A time-warp takes Davidson onto a different planet whereby Apes are the dominant species and, in the same manner as Schaffner's original, Davidsons - amongst primative humans - is chased by apes, and caught.

Already a change in the characterisation of our lead role - he is now not neccessarily a morally-ambiguous lead, he is very-much a hero. In the opening sequence, Davidson is a hero - he saves apes. To make matters worse, not only does a stunning female-slave Daena (Estella Warren) fall for him, but it seems that Ari (Helena Bonham-Carter), a liberal ape who doesn't agree with slave humans, also falls for him. The apes and humans all speak, and the subtext about communication is lost. The film knows what it is - a heroic journey whereby our hero has to 'win' by defeating the enemy.


General Thade (Tim Roth) and General Attar (Michael Clarke Duncan) provide our hero with his enemies. Chalton Heston even cameo's as the aging Father of Thade, upping the ante, by showing Thade that 'guns' exist. This is all alongside the religious subtext regarding a holy site named CA-LI-MA and a Messianic figure in Semos - who the apes are descendants of.

Interestingly, pre-9/11, the story is very much about extremists as General Thade is overtly 'religious', even uttering the lines:
"Extremism in defense of apes is no vice"
The film is highliy critical of faith, but equally undermines it by implying that Wahlberg himself is a Messianic figure. Ari tells him how he is "sent from the stars" and his actions inspire the humans, leading the way to their salvation - and to war.

An Epic War

As previously noted, this is epic in scale. At the time, films including The Mummy, Gladiator and Armageddon were the buzz around Hollywood. The ancient civilisations in the former-two seen as a major draw at the box-office. Egyptian and Roman Empire's celebrated on the silver-screen - could the Ape Empire be celebrated on such a scale too? Throw into the mix a space-station, science-fiction element that - in the third act - is found again, having crashed to planet earth and it seems that you have a combination of all three. The latter is a bit of a stretch, but it is fair to say that both Armageddon and Deep Impact were huge-draws in 1998, and both of which spent a considerable amount of time on-board a spaceship.

But the war-finale pre-dates The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and combined with the religious overtones and historic civilisation, it caught the imagination of an audience keen to watch action sequences on such a large scale. We see explosions and a battlefield pitting humans against apes - a far cry from Battle for the Planet of the Apes. Mid-fight, a spaceship lands, and the ape Davidson originally seeked, arrives on the planet.

Lets Do The Time Warp Again

The time-warp element is important to the apes film and Burton doesn't leave it out. IT is integral to the plot. Davidson managed to survive blasting through a time-storm, the chimpanzee seems to do the same - whilst the spaceship Davidson was on fails to jump the time-warp and instead crashes down on the planet, beginning new life and new conflicts. But that is not all. God-like Mark Wahlberg sets off, leaving the planet (this time, in-keeping with Pierre Boulles novel) and returning to Earth before finding that time has been altered and General Thade has replaced Abraham Lincoln. It makes no sense. Don't even start to think it through - it is ridiculous.

This finale sharply pulls everything sharply into focus- the film is merely a light-hearted joke. This is an Apes film without depth, without personality and without meaning. Prior to Burton's Planet of the Apes, every film raised a social-issue that you could discuss afterwards. The film brings nothing new to the argument. It hints at ideas about equality, faith and 'truth', but it doesn't resolve the issues. In 1968, Planet of the Apes conclusively stated how earth will destroy itself if it continues in the same manner. Beneath The Planet of the Apes tackled nuclear power - and our obsession with weapons and power. Escape from the Planet of the Apes tackles the fear of exploration, and fear of acceptance. This film doesn't directly conclude any of the issues raised and, within all the fighting and fire, you know that it simplifies everything. Taylor wasn't neccessarily 'good', Ceasar was complex - frustrated by the injustice and angry about human greed. Leo Davidson is 'Good'. Ari and all the humans are 'Good'. Thade, Attar and Limbo are 'bad'. They need to all get along ... and by the end of the film, they do get along. Praise be to Semos. 
Large Association of Movie Blogs

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Rock Of Ages (Adam Shankman, 2012)

"This place is about to become a sea of sweat, ear-shattering music and puke."


In 2006, the Disney Channel released a TV-only film: High School Musical. This went on to become the most successful 'Disney Channel Original Movie' ever produced. In 2009, Fox released a TV-series in the same vein: Glee. An incredibly successful TV-show and film-series, both were musicals set in high-schools. The fundamental difference is how Glee re-imagined well-known songs and adapted them to suit the stories of the characters. This change is in in response to the success of reality-TV shows American Idol and The X-Factor, whereby songs are often covered by up-and-coming artists, only to be released soon after. I think, with regard to the revival of musicals in the last decade (Mamma Mia, Hairspray, Nine, Chicago, Dreamgirls...), it would be nice to attribute it to the success of Moulin Rouge. But we all know that this is simply not true - as production companies are well aware of the multiple sales available in different formats (At the time of writing, the best-selling 'soundtrack' on itunes is from Smash! with Burlesque and Hairspray still within the Top 20. I doubt those two films are as popular as film downloads.). The cult-following alone ensures a consistent financial-income can be generated over a long-period of time - Mamma Mia become the fastest-selling DVD in the UK. Ever. Musicals are very much 'in fashion' in production houses.

Rock of Ages is in the same world as Glee and Hairspray. The added bonus of Tom Cruise will surely get those ticket sales tip-top, but as soon as the film begins and Britney-Spears-a-like Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) sings with a chorus of bus-passengers, we realise the type of film we are in. This is a loose story hung together by rock-songs, which you will recognise, that has no connection to emotion, purpose or - of course - reality. Purples, reds and blues light up Los Angeles and, despite nods to the homelessness, drug-taking and prostitution within the city, the afflictions are merely a backdrop to the 'fun' musical that it is. At its core, it is pure Hollywood - shiney, A-list stars and big music. But it is hollow, soulless and contradicts the only issue it attempts to raise.

You Should Be Dancing
My partner Sarah has seen the musical and her biggest issue with the film was the lack of dancing. On stage, huge numbers are performed by a large dancing cast. Though I do recollect some dancing, the focus was always on the lead role and their 'emotions'. For example, the "Juke Box Hero"/"I Love Rock 'n' Roll" medley, clearly included a number of dancers alongside Drew and Sheriee - but we constantly cut-away to Brand and Baldwin singing on their own, before focussing on Drew singing whilst jazz-hands flicker at the side of the screen. Why not a static shot? Whereby the dancers are front and centre? If this is an all-out musical, show me something I don't see on The Voice because only 'Hit Me With Your Best Shot' portrayed dancers dominating the screen - and one song in a film-musical is simply not good enough.

Supporting Roles

The standout performance here is between two established actors - Paul Giametti and Tom Cruise. A fascinating dynamic whereby the business is up against the artist. Staciee Jaxx (Cruise) is everything he needs to be - and you desperately feel the love everyone has for him. It is also much-more than a 'supporting-role'. The film demands an actor who is well-know. By casting Cruise in this role, he demands your attention. Not only because of his iconic status, but he is doing things that we have never seen him do before. Paul Giametti shows two sides - we sympathise with the difficulties he has in reigning-in Staciee Jaxx, but we also despise his greedy money-making ideals. Staciee Jaxx is how he gets his money and we can see he will do anything to ensure that it happens. Catherine Zeta-Jones and Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston are not as memorable, but they manage to give a little comedy to some dull-roles - Jone's is an up-tigh, conservative campaigner whilst Cranston is a Mayor with an interest in S&M.

The Complete Contradiction

The end of the film portrays Drew Boley (Diego Boneta) as he manages to sneak into the music-industry, but unfortunately, the 'rock-and-roll' time period is over - Wham! and Vanilla Ice is the new thing. Poor Drew sells his soul and becomes a George-Michael-looking pop star. Obviously, the film - and musical - criticise the late-80's pop-world, but the irony is how the film becomes the cheap-Hollywood it also criticizes. Its akin to the complete conflict when Britney Spears covered 'I Love Rock and Roll'. It simply doesn't make any sense. Then again, maybe all these 'rock-and-roll' ballads in the 80's were simply cheesy pop-songs dressed up as rock songs?

At any rate, Russell Brand  (Dennis Dupree) and Alec Baldwin (Lonny) both represent the old-school values of Rock and Roll. Initially singing "I Love Rock n Roll" (as Drew sings "Juke Box Hero" - already the conflict between fame-against-music perhaps?), the two characters then fall for each other, in a memorable duet covering REO Speedwagon's 'Can't Fight This Feeling'. A song covered by the Glee cast on their first album. But again, this is the contradiction - songs already performed by Glee (including Journey's 'Don't Stop Believing') and re-re-covered in Rock of Ages, so I'm sure that even the core-audience will watch it and have a feeling of deja-vu.

The "Fun" Finale

As a musical, I don't believe 'spoilers' are going to ruin the film for you. Suffice to say, at the end of the film, we see Staciee Jaxx perform with his band Arsenal in a stadium - and the crowd is going wild. They are singing Journey's 'Don't Stop Believin''. Initially, you think to yourself that maybe Staciee Jaxx has stolen the song from Drew (the "writer" of the song), who performed the song in the previous scene at The Bourbon Club. A very pessimistic ending I thought, until Jaxx says to the crowd "lets give a big hand to the writers of the song - Drew and Sheriee!". The crowd cheers and Drew and Sheriee continue singing the song on the stage. We see all the cast somewhere in the audience singing along. This is ridiculous.

And I think that this final scene summarises my feelings towards the film. Other than a rousing finale, whereby all the characters can sing a little bit, and we can all cheer, there is no purpose to why the story would play-out in such a way. The entire film, we have seen Drew and Sheriee struggle to 'make it' in LA. Do they achieve success? We don't know, they are merely brought on stage briefly at an Arsenal gig. Why would Staciee Jaxx even want them on his stage? Why would anyone cheer them on? These are writers - a profession which is historically not appreciated in the film and music industries. The story wraps up nothing except relationships - girl and guy get together. The entire '80's pop' destroying rock 'n' roll is not truly tackled. The whole Paul Giametti as a money-man isn't resolved - indeed, Staciee Jaxx fires him, but I'm sure he'll survive (a standout scene). But as long as the finale looks cool and the songs are great, theoretically we can all walk out happy to have sung, hummed and tapped our feet to the sounds of Foreigner, Poison and Starship. But that is it - a bunch of songs we all like to hear. But sung by actors. In a cheesy-pop manner.

I'd rather just listen to the original songs myself.

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Sunday, 10 June 2012

The Weekly Review: 10/06/2012

A weekly round-up of what I have been watching, listening to and discussing. Rather than just posts about film, this is a bit more all-encompassing as I think my interest in cinema and art crosses over and between a variety of sources...

I have been on holiday for the last week so I have been lucky enough to watch lots of films, go to art galleries, meet up with friends and family and generally relax after a very busy 6-weeks. I was also paid which is always a plus... so be prepared for lots of viewing of The Jason Bourne films, the Jurassic park films and original Batman films. I can't wait!

Highlight of the Week

Tate Modern: Damien Hirst: I started a membership to the Tate art galleries in London. I have meant to do this for a long time, but always held back on the basis that (a) I can normally go with a friend to the galleries on their membership and (b) there are plenty of galleries to visit in London. But I caved because I haven't been in a long time and, despite wanting to go to multiple exhibitions recently, I couldn't go because I always felt that £15 to go to an exhibition is a little bit too much. Anyway, I hope to write a bigger post for TQS about the Damien Hirst exhibition because I truly loved it - but in the meantime, I will simply ask you to look at a skull made outnof diamonds. Just stunning to look at really.


Rock Of Ages - Review coming up on Flickering Myth soon ...

Moonrise Kingdom - If you like Wes Anderson, you'll like this. Also, strangely, the two kids in the film look a little too similar to some friends of mine.

Prometheus - Review is already up - it really is fantastic and anyone who disagrees can watch Avatar.

The Dictator - Sacha Baron Cohen needs to stick to what he does best because, so far, he has only made one good film: Borat.

Batman - Unimpressed. Not as good as everyone made it out to be. Indeed, this is further explored with a fellow blogger in the near future...


Coldplay - Last Monday I watched Coldplay live at the Emirates - absolutely brilliant. I have been humming and singing songs from 'Mylo Xyloto' loads ... but, when they played 'Violet Hill' I remember how good that song is too.

Paul Simon - With 25 years celebrating the release of 'Graceland', Paul Simon has re-released the album and a documentary called Under African Skies is now available. I really want to see the documentary and yet, foolishly, I downloaded the album from itunes, and its not included on the download. Only on the CD/DVD pack in stores.

TV/Theatre/Art Galleries/Books/Misc

Flowers Gallery: Edward Burtynsky & Julie Cockburn - In passing, I visited the gallery with my brother and it was fascinating. Burtynsky has taken photographs of landscapes that almost look like paintings. Its only when you look at the details do you realise the brush strokes are, in fact, tyre-tracks. Cockburn on the other hand has portraits which, again, look like they have been painted upon but, on closer inspiection, the paint-marks are actually sewn-in. A great use of materials.

Roger Ebert: The Great Movies III - I said I would start a new book and I have. Already some facsinating insights into Groundhog Day and Blade Runner and an interesting, negative-take, on The Godfather Part II. As a film-blogger, its important to read as much critic-writing as possible. And there is no finer place to look than Eberts writings.

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Thursday, 7 June 2012

Battle for the Planet of the Apes (J. Lee Thompson, 1973)

"All knowledge is for good. Only the use to which you put it can be good or evil"


When you watch the Blu-Ray versions of the series, they are introduced by the 'lawgiver'. Considering he does not appear in any of the films until Battle for the Planet of the Apes, it seems a bit unneccessary. Even in this film, it is more a cameo of John Huston, rather than a neccessary facet to the film. It bookends the film before flashing back to a period shortly after the end of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. In the time period between the films, a nuclear bomb has killed many humans and all apes can now speak. Considering this has all happened within a human lifetime is shocking - even MacDonald from the previous film has a 'brother' (Austin Stoker) who is Ceasar's (Roddy McDowell) close, human-friend. Differences to the timeline have included a rule whereby the word 'No' is forbidden and 'Apes do not kill other Apes'. But there is a conflict between the species - Gorilla's are angry about their previous enslavement, humans are already a 'lower' class but they can talk. This is the final confrontation between humans and apes.

Back to the Original ...

It seems to me that producers and writers wanted to hark back to the first film and get out of the city-scape and human-dominance of the previous two installments. The apes are the dominant species now - something that has not been the case since Beneath the Planet of the Apes. The existence of Ceasar though is different to the original 'sacred scrolls' text. We don't know where this future will lead. Ceasar is much more understanding and wants humans and apes to co-exist together - but this is an opinion not shared by all. The theme of 'exploration' is tackled further. Ceasar wants to know about his parents - Cornelius and Zira - which MacDonald explains is possible if they visit the Forbidden City. Unknown to the apes, malformed humans are still alive beneath the city - and the visit is shortlived as Governor Kolp (Severn Darden reprising his role from Conquest of the Planet of the Apes) uses this as a reason to strike against the apes, starting a war, attempting to take them out before they continue their dominance of the planet.

One of the few strengths of the film is how it references so many of the previous installments - footage from Escape from the Planet of the Apes, mention of the ALPHA-OMEGA bomb worshipped in Beneath the Planet of the Apes - show how the producers wanted to honour what had preceded in this story. Unfortunately, some awful acting and small-scale sequences made what should've been an epic, huge-scale finale into a whimper of a finish.

"Are their any jobs available on that 'Death Star' thing?"
The Malformed Humans

We know that the 'circle' of events from Planet of the Apes should loop around - and the radiation poisioning of the humans in this film clearly precedes the hugely deformed humans in Beneath the Planet of the Apes. Interestingly, when I analysed Planet of the Apes, I noted how - as a planet - the 'apes' dusty location, the endless desert, reminded me of Star Wars and the planet of Tatooine. Due to the negative-associations of the uniforms worn by Nazi's in World War II, it seems that both Lucas and Thompson both used this World War II reference point to design costumes for the villains in Darth Vader and Governor Kolp. Because of this, Kolp seems to be almost Darth Vader in every form - except without the mask and voice. Long, black jacket and over-sized collars. Both have huge physiques that, as they lead their armies, connects their intelligence in leading an army with the brute-force of a wrestler or fighter. Considering that both Star Wars and Planet of the Apes were very-much a part of the Sci-Fi scene in the 70's, I'm sure Lucas considered what made Planet of the Apes successful was the 'alien' look of the planet.

Ape-City if Built

We recall vividly Charlton Heston's mistreatment in the first film, and yet here we see an Ape-City which is built whereby humans play with apes. The Gorilla's are what threatens this - and the death of Ceasar's child is what truly changes his attitude. Gorilla's break rules to get their own way - opposed to fairness and equality. Even Ceasar does not initially believe in the equality which humans expect - the change in this stance is what changes the foundations of Ape-City and the future of the planet.

As we flash-forward again, the lawgiver is revealed to be telling a story to children: apes and humans together, living in harmony. A child asks "Who knows about the future" and the lawgiver replies:
"Perhaps only the dead..."
And a single-tear falls from a Ceasar-statue behind the group. It doesn't really make sense - tears of joy for the continued co-existence of humans and apes? an awareness of the future? (Taylor's - at this stage - future arrival to shake-up the balance?) or did Ceasar want apes to dominate? It really seems like one of those endings that thinks it is more profound than it actually is. Battle for the Planet of the Apes is, very-much, an anti-climax to the saga. Trying to take the film back to its roots, it seems to fail at showing any 'truth' to the apes history. Merely tackling themes which have already been explored and extending a story that we could have mentally filled-in after Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. It is not a suprise that this was the last theatrical-film until 2001, whereby Tim Burton, in the time of Lord of the Rings, Gladiator and Braveheart, would release his own 're-imagining'...

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