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War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

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Starring Woody Harrelson, Andy Serkis, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Amiah Miller

Directed by Matt Reeves


Since I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, I’m going to discuss certain events minimally. That being said, I do warn readers that this review will give away information that is best left seen during the experience.

Franchises rarely see greatness after the first entry. There are far more terrible sequels than there are memorable ones. But when greatness strikes, it can hit like a lightning bolt and shock viewers with its awesome power. Cutting to the quick of it, Matt Reeves’ War for the Planet of the Apes, the third film in the Planet of the Apes trilogy that began in 2011, offers precisely that experience.

The story takes place two years after the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his apes are in hiding in the woods, attempting to live a life of peace and solitude away from humans. However, the actions of Koba have not been forgotten; and soldiers, led by The Colonel (Woody Harrelson), are still searching for Caesar and his apes, not to kill them but to use them for their own nefarious plans.

While this may be the foundation, the true conflict comes in when Caesar, having shown mercy to a few of The Colonel’s soldiers, suffers the murder of his wife and son, Cornelius, at the hands of The Colonel himself. This comes mere hours after Cornelius returned from a long journey where he found a potential new home for the apes. A new beginning was in store for them, and then it was all ripped away. Caesar now has a singular mission: to kill The Colonel. That blind rage and hatred places his apes in harm’s way, and it falls upon him rescue them all from their captors.

Director Reeves finds a way to exude every ounce of tension and emotion from this film. The loss of Caesar’s family is heartbreaking, and his fury is fully understandable. The Colonel’s story about his own personal loss, which also acts as the explanation of the Simian Flu’s mutation into a new kind of disease, is equally painful, even though we, the audience, loathe this man for what he’s done to a character we’ve followed through two films. Nova, a girl who has been struck as a result of the mutated virus, acts as a bridge between the species, showing Caesar that humans can have empathy and love for apes. Steve Zahn’s character, Bad Ape, offers comedic respite that feels totally organic to a film that is quite bleak and tragic.

All of these characters are interwoven in such a way that the world makes sense and where it’s hard to pick a team. Obviously the film follows the apes, and therefore, we are meant to empathize with them over humans, but we see moments where the actions of Caesar and his apes have consequences that they will have to live with. They are not flawless, and Caesar’s quest for revenge brings pain upon those he loves by virtue of his inability to look beyond his own suffering. We as viewers can understand where he’s coming from, but we don’t have to agree with it and are free to criticize his choices.

–S P O I L E R    A L E R T–

Everything comes to a climax that is explosive, both figuratively and literally. While it made sense in the overall storyline, there was an event of cataclysmic magnitude that felt wildly out of place and rather unnecessary. Furthermore, an injury Caesar sustained during this battle leads to his death after what feels like several days have passed. I found myself questioning why Caesar would hide it from the rest of the apes when immediate care would probably have saved him. However, in the grand scheme of things, it is quite poetic. Caesar was born into a world of humans and leaves it witnessing a home for apes.

–E N D    S P O I L E R–

The overall story is all well and good, although it felt rather rushed. The mutated Simian Flu seemingly takes effect overnight, the capture of Caesar’s apes is unexplained (and feels unexplainable), and the soldiers, who have so effectively, and against all odds, managed to stay alive to this point, seem rather inept in the moment.

Visually, the film is nothing short of astounding. The FX used to create the apes is incredibly lifelike; and their eyes, which are usually the hardest part to get right, are rich with emotion and detail. The orangutan Maurice, in particular, looks particularly spectacular. Additionally, I think it will be a crime if Andy Serkis is not nominated for Best Actor as his performance not only brings Caeser to life but commands every scene. As for the music, Michael Giacchino’s score is thrilling, emotional, and engaging. It adds fuel to every scene where it is present and helps elevate this film to a higher level.

War for the Planet of the Apes is truly a marvel in so many ways. It’s a visual feast, it’s thematically challenging, and it’s one of the most thrilling experiences you’ll have in theaters this year. Is it flawless? No. But is it worth your time, money, and emotional investment. Absolutely. The new Planet of the Apes series has been given a fitting and powerful conclusion.

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User Rating 4 (11 votes)
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Friends Don’t Let Friends Review – A Haunting Mixture of Psychological Turmoil and Brutal Supernatural Horror

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Starring Brittany Anne Woodford, Jenny Curtis, Kanin Guntzelman, Brendan McGowan, Jake White

Directed by James S. Brown

We all like to think of ourselves as being surrounded by friends, but let’s face it, if we were to ever truly hit hard times, there are probably very few, if any, people we could truly rely on. So on some level, Friends Don’t Let Friends is a film we can all relate too, as it deals with this very issue.

Stephanie is an emotionally unstable young woman who strangles her boyfriend to death after he insults and breaks up with her. She calls her friends to help her dispose the body out in the Joshua Tree National Part area, and instead of reporting her to the police, they reluctantly comply. As their car breaks down, the four friends find themselves alone at night in the Californian wilderness with the rotting corpse in need of disposal. Given their dire circumstances, they begin to become more and more aggressive towards each other, and this was where the film was really at its best. I was on the edge of my seat, wondering how far the limits of their friendship could be stretched, and who would be the first to crack and turn on the others.

Anyway, their body disposal endeavor soon proves to be a mistake, as Stephanie’s ex rises from the grave as vengeful zombie demon thing with claws as long as knives. I’ll admit, I first I thought Friends Don’t Let Friends was going to be a movie purely about the limits of trust, so I was pretty surprised when the supernatural elements came into play. And when they did, the trust and friendship elements of the plot were somewhat downplayed in favor of a more traditional horror approach, and while it was still entertaining, I still would have preferred for the film not to have strayed from its initial path. At least the ending came as a shocker. I won’t go into spoilers, but let’s just say the even the most attentive viewers probably won’t see it coming.

As you can probably guess from a psychologically-driven film of this kind, the performances were top notch, with Brittany Anne Woodford being on particularly top form as the manipulative and unstable Stephanie, a character who revels in the revels in the power she felt when ending another human life.

With its mixture of psychological turmoil and brutal supernatural horror, Friends Don’t Let Friends is a film I would certainly recommend, but keep in mind that it may make you think twice when confiding in people who you think of as being your friends.

8 out of 10.

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Coulrophobia Review – One of the Most Entertaining Killer Clown Films in Quite Some Time

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Starring Pete Bennett, Warren Speed, Daniella D’Ville, Roxy Bordeaux

Directed by Warren Speed


The word ‘Coulrophobia’ refers to the fear of clowns, and if you happen to suffer from it, you might want to avoid director Warren Speed’s film of the same name. However, if you can stand the sight of clowns with gaping wounds in their manly parts, then you’re in for one heck of a fun time.

An all-female hockey team get lost deep in the Scottish woods on their way to a match (don’t ask), and are captured and forced to participate in a series of horrific games by the Grock family of clowns. All of the members of said family are absolutely fucking insane, but the one that really stood out was Twitch (Pete Bennett), who wears jester cloths and it said to have a short attention span. He longs to be a violin player and wishes he could blend in with normal society like the other members of his family. And you almost feel sorry for him, even though he’s a mad killer with bells on his head.

Director Warren Speed also appeared as Milo, a grunting mute who had his tongue cut out when he was a boy. As mentioned above, we see a close-up shot of a open wound in his penis being stitched up, which is not an image that will be leaving your mind anytime soon. Speed is clearly fearless when it comes to his art.

Inter-spliced with all the torture and mayhem, we also see documentary-style telling the sad history of the family involved, and this was where the film unfortunately faltered, because these scenes seemed out of place and just didn’t flow with the rest of the plot.

Ultimately, however, Coulrophobia almost seems like a film Rob Zombie might have made before he lost his way and started churning out trash like 31. Comparisons to House of 1000 Corpses are inevitable, and I absolutely mean that as a compliment. This is one of the most entertaining killer clown films in quite some time.

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User Rating 2.94 (17 votes)
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The Gatehouse Review – What Is Found in the Woods Should Be Left in the Woods

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Starring Scarlett Rayner, Simeon Willis, Linal Haft

Directed by Martin Gooch


Now while no one will sneeze at the prospect of bringing up a bit of a rebellious child alone, it’s those damned kids that like to tempt fate by pissing off creatures in the woods…oh kids, they do the funniest things, don’t they?

In Martin Gooch’s moderately spooky presentation, The Gatehouse, a struggling writer named Jack (Willis) finds himself behind the 8-ball following the tragic drowning death of his beloved wife, and if that isn’t enough to torque your drawers, his young daughter, Eternity (Rayner) is becoming quite the salty soul herself. Unfortunately the little one has been finding herself bullied at school, and her recourse of sorts is to simply toss attitude around as if it was pleasantly acceptable. Her pastime has become lonely wanderings in the deep woods, digging for hopeful treasures…and we all know what problems reside in the woods, don’t we, horror fans? Well, Eternity’s father is attempting to re-start his writing career with a frightening backstory – taking the reigns on a novel that was abruptly ended when the author committed suicide, and supposedly the tome is quite the dark piece of literature.

Eternity’s never-ending quest for fortune and glory in the forest leads her to a most interesting (and ultimately) dangerous discovery (don’t sweat it – I won’t spill it for you). Bottom line here is this: the little girl has taken possession of something that should have been left in the friggin’ woods, and now someone (or something) wants it back PRONTO. What follows is a lackluster series of “spooky” events, and far be it from me to say, I’ve seen creepier stuff watching the evening news. Gooch then tries to bombard the audience with a plethora of instances and swerving plot direction – it’s fun at the beginning but can grow a bit tiresome over a duration.

Performance-wise, both Rayner and Willis play the perfect combination of mentally-shot dad and determined-to-be-independent daughter – their scenes are ripe with subtle contempt, and the right amount of indecision. Overall, the film is best suited for those fans of fantasy/fable-like horror, and while it might not scare the pants off of you, it definitely will give us all another reason to stay the hell out of the woods once and for all.

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Summary

Children in a forest-setting don’t always add up to cutesy-pie encounters with furry creatures – this one’s got a few scares to keep fans of coppice-horror appeased.

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User Rating 3.56 (18 votes)
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