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Entries in jason clarke (3)

Friday
Jul112014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Say what you want about their production values, particularly the cheesy, rubbery make-up the actors were forced to wear in the older films, but the “Planet of the Apes” series, at least thematically, is one of the best and most intelligent science fiction series ever created. Though not all were created equal, each movie had something fascinating to explore, but the first stands above the rest. With battling themes of science vs. religion and a controversial stance that intellectual progression was being impeded by archaic religious thought (which remains controversial even to this day), “Planet of the Apes” cemented itself as a riveting, thought provoking science fiction film. The following films dealt with bigotry, slavery, war and more, which kept them interesting even as their overall quality declined.

The 2011 series comeback, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” attempted to explore similar ground, but lacked its predecessors’ profundity. The newest entry, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” similarly fails to make much of a thematic impression, but it’s a damn fine movie nonetheless, a summer spectacle full of mind-blowing action, wonderfully developed characters and a surprisingly emotional story you won’t soon forget. Even with its thematic deficiencies, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” can stand proud as the best film in the franchise since the 1968 original.

Ten years have passed since the last film and two since the last humans have been seen. The leader of the evolving apes, Caesar (Andy Serkis), has built a sanctuary for his fellow apes, a place they can all call home in the peaceful mountains outside San Francisco. However, just when they think humans might be gone for good, they stumble upon some on a mountain path. In their panic, the humans shoot one of the apes’ sons, creating tension between the two factions. Back in quarantined San Francisco, Malcolm (Jason Clarke) tells their own leader, Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), what they saw: talking apes in mass numbers. Dreyfus brushes this off as panicked hysteria, but soon finds his words to be true when the apes appear in front of them, demanding segregation. They’ll fight if they have to, but they would prefer peace, achieved by keeping the humans in the city and the apes in the mountains. This arrangement isn’t ideal for the humans, however, because they are running out of power and need to fix the dam in the mountains. Despite some skepticism, Caesar agrees to let them fix it, but each side is uncomfortable with the other and their paranoia leads them down a path neither want to travel.

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” does a remarkable thing. Whereas most movies create two clear factions, one good and one bad, this one balances both masterfully, to the point where there is no distinct good or bad side. Each of those sides has good and bad characters, those that try to prevent war and others that try to perpetuate it, but it’s not always a case of this side being right and that side being wrong. All are simply trying to survive in a new and mysterious world, so you come to care about both humans and apes, wishing hard for a peaceful outcome, but knowing the outcome is predetermined.

At its core, this is a film about family, in both the literal sense and in the camaraderie the two species have with their own kind. Each are willing to do whatever it takes to keep their families safe, neither wanting to go to war, but both willing to if they must. What “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” lacks in thematic depth, it more than makes up for with these wonderfully well written characters—the best written in the entire series—which leads way to an incredibly moving story that proceeds the way it does not simply because the screenplay calls for it, but because the characters onscreen have developed realistic motivations based on the experiences they had before.

This gives the action that follows more meaning than your typical summer fare. Only briefly does the story take a backseat to that action before it catches back up and gives it some narrative context. The death and destruction that erupts is heartbreaking due to the film’s delicate handling of its characters, which continues through these breathtaking action sequences, including a steady cam single take on top of a tank that is enough to impress even non-film enthusiasts who don’t usually notice those types of visual touches.

If you’re a fan of the original films and are looking for some meaning in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” you’ll find some, but it’s nothing as interesting as the franchise’s previous thematic endeavors. You’ll get those themes of segregation, submission, control through fear and more, but we’ve seen these ideas before in other, more thematically focused films. Instead, this movie focuses on its finely tuned, character driven story, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Even if you go in looking for something that ultimately isn’t there, you’ll leave happy after seeing what is.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes receives 4.5/5

Friday
Jan112013

Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty, regardless of its quality, was going to be greeted with multiple awards nominations. It had a great cast headlined by the underappreciated Jessica Chastain, a director perhaps most famous for her Oscar win for 2008’s The Hurt Locker and it’s about a recent true story, a pivotal moment in our nation’s history when we took out the man who harmed us on 9/11, Osama Bin Laden. Awards voters and movie critics eat things like that up, but like many of this year’s movies, Zero Dark Thirty fails to resonate. It’s too long to thrill, too dry to grab attention and it’s practically emotionless, aside from one final scene that doesn’t fit in with what is essentially a clinical procedural of the events that led to Bin Laden’s death. From the first torture scene where a tiny bit of information is gathered to the final confrontation, Zero Dark Thirty is strict in its structure. The events as played out in the film are still fascinating as we watch that tiny bit of information snowball into something bigger and bigger, but it doesn’t hit any profound sentiment like The Hurt Locker did, or even take sides on the bigger issues as a whole. It simply moves along, showing you how the events (likely) played out and then it ends and you’re no better or worse for it.

Still, as far as emotionally empty and narratively bland procedurals go, Zero Dark Thirty is as good as they come and, in a way, the fact that it doesn’t take sides on key issues like torture works to its advantage. Although I’ve heard arguments from both sides, some even going so far as to say the film actually promotes torture (a somewhat reasonable conclusion to make given that the excessive and humiliating torture that poor man receives at the beginning of the movie eventually leads to a successful mission of killing Bin Laden), it’s fairly neutral. For example, it doesn’t treat torture as something evil or good, but rather simply as something that was used by our government to extract information. It shows it because it happened, not because it’s trying to make a statement on it.

But then again, that’s why Zero Dark Thirty comes off so much like a procedural. It rarely, if ever, has anything to say regarding, well, anything. It doesn’t touch on the fear that gripped our nation after the attacks. It ignores the high running emotions that led us to war in the first place. It doesn’t talk about the effects this dangerous search had on those running it. Although I’m sure the plans were carried out with a high degree of professionalism in the real world, emotional ambiguity doesn’t make for a very good movie. The Hurt Locker, for instance, was about the effects of war on the soldiers who fight it. It was about their trauma, their fear and even their familiarity with it, to the point where some felt more comfortable with a gun overseas than in a time of peace on their homeland. Zero Dark Thirty has none of that.

If it’s about anything, it’s about obsession, the need to right the wrong. Chastain, playing Maya, the woman in relentless pursuit of the man who spilled innocent American blood, is fantastic in the role and manages to pull off some tense dialogue driven scenes that ramp up her character’s emotions, even if ours remain distant. Where Zero Dark Thirty works, though, despite Chastain’s excellent performance, isn’t in the character arcs, but rather in the narrative trajectory that begins with that aforementioned interrogation of a low level Al Qaeda subordinate and ends with a spellbinding interpretation of the Navy SEALs operation that took Bin Laden out.

Regardless of its procedural approach, it works because it’s not exploitative. It doesn’t show behind-the-scenes “what ifs” of what Bin Laden may have been doing. Similarly, not once does the film feel like a piece of propaganda the way this year’s Act of Valor did. It’s not trying to get anyone to join the armed forces or even make you feel a certain way. It’s simply showing you something that happened and you take it as it is. The strength of such conviction is evident, but then again, so is the weakness. For a movie that dramatizes the death of an undeniably evil man who killed innocent people, leading to one of the very few times everybody in America stood together as one, there needed to be more of an audience connection. The emotion, both onscreen and within ourselves, should have resonated, but instead you leave the movie with an empty feeling, knowing full well the movie you saw was good, but wanting something more. Zero Dark Thirty is bound to win Best Picture at this year’s Oscars and though I will certainly defend it as a good movie, I’ll argue against that inevitable decision.

Zero Dark Thirty receives 3.5/5

Wednesday
Aug292012

Lawless

John Hillcoat is one of cinema’s most underappreciated directors and his movies are maddeningly underseen. His last film from 2009, The Road, was one of the best of that year, but was largely ignored by most everyone, including the supposed film experts who snubbed it of all Oscar nominations. That was a film that dared to face death and despair head on. It wasn’t a pleasant movie, but it was thematically deep and emotionally complex. It was everything movies should be, but it’s grim nature assured it would never overcome that bittersweet underrated status. Hillcoat’s latest, Lawless, based on the book “The Wettest County in the World” by Matt Bondurant, is once again brimming with greatness. It demands to be seen by a wide audience, but if history really does repeat itself, it’s destined for a quiet greatness, one that is known by those who have seen it and ignored by those who haven’t. Lawless has flaws, more so than The Road, and it’s not as contemplative, but it’s nevertheless one of the best of the year.

The film takes place in Franklin, Virginia in 1931 and stars Shia LaBeouf as Jack Bondurant, the younger brother to Forrest and Howard, played by Tom Hardy and Jason Clarke, respectively. It’s the Prohibition era and alcohol has been illegalized. As anyone who has ever cracked open a history book knows, this led to lots of unlawful practices surrounding the distribution (and ingestion) of alcohol. The Bondurant brothers are just one group of many who decided to profit off of  the law, but it has become a problem in their little town and a hot shot deputy from Chicago, Charlie Rakes, played by Guy Pearce, is brought in to fix it. In the midst of all this, Jack begins to fall in love with a pretty young girl named Bertha, played by Mia Wasikowska. She comes from a more traditional, conservative family and is expected to act and dress a certain way, but she begins to reciprocate Jack’s feeling, which leads her astray and puts her in danger. By the end, tragedies will befall the characters and blood will be spilled.

This story, based on a true one about the author’s own family, is as gripping as any to come out this year. Movies about Prohibition are no rarity, the most popular being 1987’s horribly overrated Brian De Palma film, The Untouchables, but whereas that movie featured a wooden central performance from Kevin Costner and inconsequential shootouts with unnamed baddies, Lawless is rich in characterization and every event matters, causing a ripple effect to its amazing and inevitable conclusion. The brotherly bond is there and the romances are never played as hokey. These feel like real people living through a tough time in history, when the simple sale of alcohol threatened violence. The three brothers are far from upstanding citizens, but there’s a humanity to them and you understand their actions, even when you disagree with them. You may not approve of what they’re doing at a certain point in time, but you’ll never condemn them. Everything they do has a reason and the way they’re portrayed in the film—as flawed, but ultimately good people—is excellent.

These characters are three dimensional, there’s no doubt about that, and the dialogue they recite leads to some of the best and most intense dialogue driven scenes since Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, but Lawless isn’t all talk. In fact, it’s quite violent, brutally and uncomfortably so at times, but that makes the movie all the better. It doesn’t glorify it in any way and it exists for a purpose, to both give the characters some motivational weight and to give the film a gritty, raw and realistic feel. Lawless never feels exploitative in these scenes and knows when to leave things up to the imagination, like an early rape that is only implied, effectively eliminating that feeling of hopelessness many rape scenes elicit while still providing the anger and understanding such a scene hopes to instill in its audience.

If there’s anything wrong with Lawless, it comes from a lack of screen time for two of cinema’s most underrated actors, Guy Pearce and the as yet unmentioned Gary Oldman. Oldman features prominently in the beginning of the film and his utter disregard for the sanctity of human life makes him a captivating villain, but he’s quickly forgotten in favor of other narrative exploits, serving only as a catalyst for Jack’s eventual bootlegging ways. Pearce on the other hand is there from beginning to end, but his performance is so breathtaking and wholeheartedly deserving of an Oscar nomination that you just want him to be there more. All of the performances are great, in fact, but it’s the writing that allows them to be. Everything comes together beautifully in Lawless. It’s the perfect way to end the summer movie season.

Lawless receives 4.5/5