A great new Planet of the Apes, cultural discord in Tanna and songs of aboriginal history in The Road Forward
Another summer week, another blockbuster movie. That’s common enough, but two good ones in a row? Spider-Man: Homecoming and now War For the Planet of the Apes? That’s unusual and next week we get Dunkirk. Could be a July trifecta.
Meanwhile, these are new in town:
War for the Planet of the Apes: 4 stars
Tanna: 3 ½
The Road Ahead: 3 ½
The Ornithologist: 3
The Little Hours: 2 ½
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES: This is what summer movies are supposed to be like. It’s a popcorn flick for sure, but it goes far beyond that with serious themes, character development and fabulous craft and visuals. (Our forests here in B.C. look spectacular hosting this adventure.) It’s the high point in this long series (nine films, two TV shows) and can’t be dismissed as just a potboiler. Think of it like the grand epics we used to get, such as Bridge on the River Kwai, Spartacus and, with several direct allusions, Apocalypse Now.
When the series was re-booted three films ago, a genetic experiment went awry and Caesar, the head ape, developed human intelligence and started a fight for freedom. Last film, his pack swarmed over the Golden Gate Bridge. Now they’re trying to live peacefully hiding out in a forest retreat. Caesar, once again played in motion-capture technique by Andy Serkis, has to mediate between the factions in his band, the fight-back fervor of Koba or the wiser advice of Maurice (again played by local actor Karin Konoval). Humans force their hand.
Woody Harrelson leads a special forces unit that attacks and drives them out. He’s clearly modeled after Col. Kurtz both in his look and the intensity of his obsessions. He runs an internment camp where he’s put apes to work, building a wall no less. Caesar still prefers the peaceful way and sets out to lead his pack to another secret sanctuary. We get spectacular action scenes, helicopter attacks, apes massing as an army and a final ape-to-man confrontation. Even then, the main themes of racial fear, persecution and resistance (and man-vs-animals) stay foremost. It’s a terrific film by Matt Reeves who also directed the previous one (Dawn of The …) and the apocalyptic thriller Cloverfield. (Scotiabank, Marine Gateway and many suburban theatres) 4 out of 5
TANNA: It’s a Romeo and Juliet story in a lush South Pacific setting. It’s an anthropologically accurate peek into a remote society having to face up to modern ideas. And it’s a true story told by a couple of documentarians, Bentley Dean and Martin Butler, taking their first stab at directing a drama. It’s not perfect but works beautifully and was a contender for an Academy Award.
Part of the appeal is the exotic world we’re taken into. It’s 1987.The Yakel people in one region of the island nation of Vanuatu are almost totally cut off from the rest. They stick to the old ways. The village is defenceless without its shaman. Going into the forest is taboo. A popular children’s game involves running off with a boy’s “penis sheath”.
Battles break out regularly with a nearby tribe called the Imedin. One of these leads to a novel peace attempt: a local girl, Wawa, is offered to be married into the enemy tribe. European royalty used to do it, and pictures of Elizabeth and Philip are brought out to support the plan. Also, Yakel girls marry who the chief tells them to marry. However what’s to happen when his grandson loves that girl and hates the Imedin because they killed his parents? Personal wishes, the good of the entire community and tradition conflict, possibly tragically. Dean and Butler got the details from the people themselves and got non-actors from their village to play the parts. They’re surprisingly good, not dull at all. The story is highly emotional and the culture feels authentic and looks gorgeous on screen. (VanCity Theatre) 3 ½ out of 5