Movie reviews: 'War for the Planet of the Apes' swings into theaters July 14, along with 'The Journey' and 'To the Bone'
We've made it more than half-way through 2017 and we're now more than half-way through the Summer blockbuster season. That means war..."War for the Planet of the Apes," that is. It's the third (and final?) chapter in the re-imagined "Planet of the Apes" universe that began back in 2011, and no monkeying around: You'd be bananas if you didn't plan on seeing it this weekend. Most other studios decided not to go to war with "Apes," so there aren't many other theatrical offerings this weekend, although "The Journey" looks to make a bit of noise in limited release, while the Netflix release "To the Bone" has stirred up quite the controversy.
So is "War" worth the price of admission, and are these other movies worth seeking out? Here are our reviews for the new releases on Friday, July 14, 2017:
"War for the Planet of the Apes"
It might have been called "The Hateful Ape" (thankfully, it wasn't). But now three films in, Caesar (Andy Serkis) is one ticked-off chimp. In movie time, 15 years have now passed since the actions depicted in the first movie, where a massive experiment went very, very wrong. Apes - of all shapes and sized - were gifted with intelligence while an ape-born disease left the planet's human population decimated (read my review of "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" here. In "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," we saw Caesar's full potential as a leader realized, but in-fighting within his own species became a bigger threat than even that posed from human-kind. We've now come to "War for the Planet of the Apes", and it's the best of the bunch...easily one of this Summer's best blockbuster films.
It's incredibly impressive that the filmmakers have populated this universe with so many unique characters, and Caesar's journey is one of the most compelling a character has endured in modern film. The apes are still warring with the military when a rogue Colonel (a very impressive Woody Harrelson) inflicts a tragic blow to Caesar's troop. Caesar descends into rage and despair and sets out for revenge. The Colonel though, is clearly winning and has imprisoned hundreds of apes that he is using to build a wall (and the apes are going to pay for it! Ahem...). He's also enlisted the help of several defective, mutinous apes that have been labeled "donkeys," who basically have chosen to betray their own kind in order to survive.
"War for the Planet of the Apes" may be the most spectacular, breath-taking and utterly extraordinary showcase of special effects and motion-capture cinema has ever seen up to this point. This film is gut-wrenching, heart-breaking and powerful throughout, but unlike other Summer films that may have similar budgets, there is depth and care taken with these characters. At the center of it all is the great Andy Serkis, who finally has delivered a motion-capture performance worthy of award consideration...it's been talked about in the past, but his nuanced performance as an aged, enraged Caesar has got to force the issue come Fall. Is this the end of this franchise? I can't imagine that to be the case. But why can't all Summer movies be this well-done? There's intense action, a few laughs, some tears, and some parallels to modern society that don't go unnoticed. Finally, a Summer blockbuster with purpose. It's Caesar's world, and we're just living in it...for now anyways.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama. Run Time: 2 hours 20 minutes.
Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Toby Kebbell, Amiah Miller, Terry Notary.
Co-Written and Directed by Matt Reeves ("Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," "Let Me In," "Cloverfield").
If warring monkeys isn't your thing, maybe warring politicians is. Timothy Spall puts on an acting clinic (as he normally does) opposite the equally-great Colm Meaney in the small political drama, "The Journey", which is based in reality but really lives on the border of preposterous and implausible.
In 2006, some crucial peace talks were occurring between opposing factions in Northern Ireland. On one side you have the stuffy Democratic Party leader, Ian Paisley (Spall), with the more liberal-minded Sinn Fein leader, Martin McGuiness (Meaney) on the other. Then British Prime Minister Tony Blair (Toby Stephens) sat in the middle of things, and concocted one heck of a far-fetched plan: After meeting to discuss terms of a possible peace agreement, Blair would make Paisley and McGuiness have to take a car ride together on their way back to the airport, forcing the yin and yang to converse and, hopefully, reach some sort of understanding with one another.
Apparently, up to this point, all of this actually happened...it's what happens after this point where "The Journey" begins to fantasize as to what may have been discussed along the way. A planted agent (a grown-up Freddie Highmore) takes the guise of their Chauffeur and introduces several obstacles - like a flat tire and a car accident - in order to give the two sparring partners more time. And while Spall and Meaney are both amazing, this journey goes nowhere. Yes, it may be inspiring to see a recent example of the left and right working together to find common ground, it doesn't feel like there was enough substance to the story to dictate having it be a feature-length film. Another notable thing about this movie, is it also stars the late John Hurt, in one of his last on-screen performances. Even still, "The Journey" feels more like a dead-end.
Genre: Drama. Run Time: 1 hour 34 minutes.
Starring: Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney, John Hurt, Freddie Highmore, Catherine McCormack, Toby Stephens.
Directed by Nick Hamm ("Killing Bono," "Godsend," "The Hole").
"To the Bone"
"To the Bone" is a new Netflix release today, a film starring the very talented Lily Collins (daughter of Phil). It's also a film that has created incredible controversy, since it deals with eating disorders and anorexia, specifically. Does the film glorify the condition? Is it an accurate portrayal? Never having (or knowing) anyone with the affliction, it's hard to say, but what can be said is that this film feels genuine...it doesn't seem to be exploitative as much as is explorative. Collins gives a very real, raw performance (as does Keanu Reeves as her doctor) and the film doesn't shy away from some of the horrors and obstacles that many people face, not only those with the disorder but those around them as well. The writer/director Marti Noxon is able to find some dark humor in some of the situation and it never feels off-putting. But as drama, "To the Bone" feels a bit thin.
Genre: Drama. Run Time: 1 hour 47 minutes.
Starring: Lily Collins, Keanu Reeves, Kathryn Prescott, Carrie Preston, Lili Taylor.
Written and Directed by Marti Noxon (feature-film directorial debut).
All of these movies open locally on Friday, July 14, 2017.
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