Thursday, July 27, 2017

Dunkirk and A Ghost Story

                                 Navigation of the Near-Intolerable

                                                   Reviews by Ken Burke
                                            Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan)
While the characters here are fictional the events are all-too-true, based on the massive evacuation of Allied soldiers from Dunkirk, France across the channel to England in 1940 during the early days of WW II; the experience is one of being submerged into the action along with the escapees and their attempted-rescuers, making for a very intense experience.
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): How can you avoid spoilers in a film based entirely on a dramatic historical event that occurred May 26-June 4, 1940 as about 400,000 Allied troops were surrounded by German invaders in the French coastal town of Dunkirk, desperately awaiting rescue which—if failed—would likely have led to the fall of Great Britain and a very different outcome of WW II?  We know the evacuation was largely successful due to the heroic participation of many Brits in small boats going directly across the 30-mile English Channel to transport soldiers either directly back home or to larger ships that couldn’t navigate into the shallow waters closer to the French shore, all the while German and RAF aircraft fought air battles, the former attempting to strafe or bomb the escapees—even when they were “safely” on their rescue ships—the latter trying to shoot these killers out of the air.  Where I can stay spoiler-free is in not recounting the specific fates of the principal fictional (generally based on fact) characters leading the action in this stirring, heart-pounding film, encouraging you to go see it for yourself as it’s marvelously well-made, engaging from start to finish, a useful addition to previous war films that glorify the actions of soldiers on the battlefield (even when showing the gory horrors of combat) in that this one’s about how even defeat can stir heroic responses but this time from the many civilians who bravely set out across the Channel in their various fishing or leisure boats to bring back as many of the trapped soldiers as possible, even as they were fired upon by the German Luftwaffe.

 Please note, however, that while the depicted scenes aren’t fully as gruesome as the horrific D-Day Allied assault on French beaches shown in 1998's Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg) or the American push toward Japan in Flags of our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima (both of these harsh perspectives, American and Japanese, directed in 2006 by Clint Eastwood) or the horrors shown in Hacksaw Ridge (Mel Gibson, 2016; review in our January 4, 2017 posting [Okinawa being the focus in that one]) what you see of the brutal miseries of war in Dunkirk can literally be felt as gut-churning (you could get testimony about that from my sweet, life-affirming, violence-adverse wife, Nina, who still nursed intestinal pains likely brought on from Nolan’s exercise in tension-building, even a day after our viewing), so I encourage you to consider whether you’re up for seeing this kind of thing before buying a ticket.  It’s not so much blood spurting from a myriad of dying bodies this time as it is the anxiety created from seeing calamities befall these trapped combatants as they try desperately to avoid everything from unseen sniper fire to oil burning on the ocean when a bomber’s shot down into an oil slick in the midst of frantically-swimming-escapees.

So, curious readers, if you can abide plot spoilers in order to learn much more about the particular cinematic offering under examination this week please feel free to read on for more of the traditional Two Guys in-depth-explorations in our brilliant (!)-but-lengthy review format.
What Happens: On-screen-graphics begin the content of this film, providing a brief account of 400,000 Allied troops trapped in Dunkirk (on the Atlantic coast of northwest France, only about 30 miles across the English Channel from Great Britain’s shores) in late spring 1940,* after which we’re thrown into the action along with a group of soldiers, including Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), moving quickly through the town as German leaflets drop, noting how they’re surrounded, encouraging immediate surrender; soon, these soldiers are dropping too, shot by unseen German snipers, as Tommy’s the only survivor making it past the Allied barricade onto the beach where massive lines of his comrades are nervously awaiting rescue from the invading Germans.  The rest of this film is intercut among 3 episodes that span different amounts of time so as scenes shift from one scenario to the next the actions we’re seeing aren’t necessarily simultaneous, an awareness we may have only after the fact of a screening as we realize the entire evacuation took about 9 days; the 1 small boat we focus on crossing, then re-crossing, the Channel is shown over the period of a day, night, next day; and the aerial dogfights are happening in almost real time over the film’s effectively-concise 1 hr., 46 min.  These episodes are identified with more graphics as “i: The Mole” (about the troops anxiously awaiting departure from an extended pier of this name), “ii: The Sea” (primarily about a civilian father, son, and young crewman—respectively, Mr. Dawson [Mark Rylance], Peter [Tom Glynn-Carney], George [Barry Keoghan]—taking part in the massive rescue operation using their small boat), “iii: The Air” (focused on 3 Royal Air Force pilots, primarily one named Farrier [Tom Hardy], attempting to down about 6 German planes whose mission was to shoot or bomb the Allied soldiers on the beach and the large ships used to evacuate those troops).

* This Encyclopedia Britannica article contains considerably more details on the actual event.

 While I can recount for you what happens across the length of Dunkirk, this film is best encountered as an intense audiovisual experience which joins motion, emotion, the flow of its magnificently-shot-intercut-scenes, and well-constructed-tension (the latter being a superlative victory for Nolan—unlike the real military disaster this forced evacuation represented for European nations that were trying unsuccessfully to stop Hitler’s rapid swallowing-up of their continent—given that everything here [except Nolan's specific fictional characters] is based on accepted 77-year-old-historical-fact). So even though we know almost 340,000 of those men were ferried across the Channel during the rescue-event (despite the cruel reality of restrained support from the Royal Navy or the RAF, given these resources were somewhat held back for defense of Britain against any attempted all-out-German-invasion) the events on screen give us serious reason to doubt any of them will make it out alive, especially when at least 3 of the intended large rescue ships are sunk by those German bombers, throwing the would-be-escapees into deep water with only slim hope of finding some other means of salvation.  As we explore details of each of the established episodes we find Tommy and a group of other Brits (plus 1 very quiet Frenchman, calling himself Gibson [Aneurin Barnard], who's almost thrown into German rifle fire because he’s perceived as joining, without authorization, their escape plan [we’ve previously seen the English officers refusing to allow French soldiers onto the ships, demanding they find their own rescue, but after all the English have finally been evacuated British Commander Bolton {Kenneth Branagh} stays behind to oversee the ongoing rescue of French and Belgian soldiers as the ships return for the rest of the evacuees]) take refuge in a beached-boat, make some progress toward home when the tide rises but eventually have to swim to other rescue vessels when the bullet holes from German target practice on the shore force their battered-craft to sink.

 From the perspective of the civilian rescuers, the Dawsons suffer tragedy when they haul aboard a disturbed, shell-shocked-soldier (Cillian Murphy), clinging to the last of his sunken ship, only to find he’s so adamant about not returning to France even to save other lives that a scuffle he has with this small crew results in the accidental death of George, an innocent boy simply trying to do right by his homeland (even after Mr. Dawson tried to convince him not to join in with their dangerous-family-determined-task), although they're then able to contribute greatly to the rescue mission by bringing aboard every last swimming soldier they can hold on their small boat, including a downed British pilot, Collins (Jack Lowden)—at which point we learn Peter’s older brother was also a pilot but he’d been killed in an earlier battle—along with Tommy and Alex (Harry Styles), the guy so concerned about the Frenchman when they were all “holed”-up in that bullet-ridden-boat (ironically, "Gibson" died trying to escape as it sank).  In the air, only Farrier manages to stay aloft (after his squad leader and Collins are shot down, the former one of the many casualties), eventually taking out all of the Luftwaffe aircraft but in doing so uses up too much of his fuel so he’s forced to land on the Dunkirk beach, captured by German soldiers just after destroying his plane (so it’s not commandeered by the enemy) with death likely awaiting given his success in killing their pilots.  As the rescue events wrap up, Peter brings news of George’s demise to the local newspaper (written up as a hero) as Churchill’s "We shall fight ..." speech of June 4, 1940 to Parliament’s House of Commons is also reported (bookending a preview of him delivering this inspirational oratory in the Darkest Hour [Joe Wright] film starring Gary Oldman, set for domestic [U.S.-Canada] release on November 22, 2017).

*This video presents a brief essence of the speech; if you’d like to hear the whole thing (12:36), well-illustrated with photos from the timeChurchill’s context of the Dunkirk evacuationhere it is.

Contemporary Photo of the 1940 Dunkirk Evacuation
So What? If “War” is ever the answer, then the question must be quite horrendous, such as “What will it take to keep from living under a cruel dictatorship?”  So, in deep respect for my now-departed Dad and father-in-law, along with all the others who stood with the Allies against the Axis plans for world-domination in the late 1930s-mid-‘40s, I can now see this answer as being appropriate under such a horrid situation (although I couldn’t find a way to understand how such a response could connect to a valid question where doomed American draftees were concerned during the Vietnam War in the mid 1960s-mid-‘70s).  Still, nothing in Dunkirk attempts to glorify war as such, just the individual heroism—in this case, of English civilians in their rescue boats—bringing their countrymen back home via a dangerous Channel crossing rather than leaving them to be slaughtered by the encroaching German army (there was also the pragmatic reality of needing to save as many of those soldiers as possible for upcoming battles in order to protect the inevitable invasion of their homeland, but that doesn’t undermine the selfless actions of the deadly trips those small-boaters took in 1940 to bring stranded men back from certain death in Dunkirk, with airborne bombers attempting to finish all of them off opposed by minimal air cover from the RAF).  Nolan can’t tinker with history too much here, although I think there were more air battles than what we see, but such use of dramatic license allows Farrier to epitomize all of the selfless pilots who gave of themselves to provide air cover for ground operations—extended into this over-sea-rescue-mission—as Nolan offers some individual focus to the types of combatants who dutifully gave of themselves to help find victory against a formidable foe, with each character representing others of his type (no "her"'s seen here).

 While I didn’t see Dunkirk in the huge-screen IMAX format I’m sure it’d be spectacular in that about 75% of it was shot in this larger-negative-process (70mm filmstock is run through the camera [and projector] in a horizontal rather than the standard vertical manner so that the image-capture-area is about 3 times larger than it would be in standard 70mm [already twice as big as what was used in the traditional 35mm size for decades of Hollywood movies]) so when we see Dunkirk in our theaters in its standard wide-screen-projection-mode we see the visuals are sharp and powerful, with so much precise detail squeezed down into the projected images.*  Despite the somewhat-slimmed-down-depiction of this huge, extraordinary evacuation procedure, Nolan took great care with believability including doing some of the shooting in Dunkirk, using thousands of actual extras (rather than just computer-generated-ones), and even era-appropriate airplanes, boats, and ships as much as possible, based on the passion this British director’s had for this project for 25 years, ever since he crossed the English Channel to Dunkirk himself, writing an early draft of the screenplay back then after which he waited until his career and cinematic expertise had progressed enough to successfully tackle this massive labor of love.  Certainly, in addition to all of the visual complexity required to make this film look/sound/feel so authentic**, a major factor in its emotional motivation is the intense score by Hans Zimmer which, in this case—with its strong aural presence rather than being used for obvious melodramatic purposes—fills in the absence of dialogue as Nolan didn’t want his characters yammering to provide backstory context or explain the film’s events to the audience because his intention is for viewers to experience the action as the characters would, reacting to immediate stimuli, talking only as necessary while time swirled around them, conveying emotions to us through facial and bodily dexterity as self-preservation was often the only thing that mattered instant-by-instant in this chaos.

*You might wonder, in looking at some of my illustrative photos (especially the one just below), what I’m referring to in regard to such crisp imagery, but I’m limited to those publicity stills available to me many of which are considerably lacking in pixel-packing compared to the cinematic originals.

**I thank my friend Barry Caine for noting 2 other relevant articles about Dunkirk's authenticity, one being testimony from actual-event-veterans about how the film's soundtrack is louder than the real evacuation's chaos due to atmospheric conditions on the beach (see also rj's comments at the very end of this posting about the IMAX version's soundtrack) and the other a forgotten aspect, the terrible fate of roughly 80,000 British and French troops captured after the Dunkirk rescue.

Bottom Line Final Comments: Although critical consensus has been enthusiastic toward Dunkirk in a manner rarely seen so consistently (Rotten Tomatoes reviewers offer 92% positive analyses of this film, the usually-more-reserved-ones surveyed at Metacritic go even higher with a 94% average score; more details in the links to this film much farther below), just as domestic audiences were quite enthusiastic on opening weekend, resulting in a $50.5 million gross (with another $55.4 million coming in from overseas receipts), but I must admit it took the gestalt of the whole cinematic experience for me to end up as moved as I was by the result.  The scope of the event was always there, with wide, sweeping shots showing the tense-yet-hopeful-lines of soldiers stretching from the Dunkirk beach out into the shallow-edge of the Channel waters waiting for any sort of rescue-vessel to save them, but with the focus on the few ships attempting escape being effectively bombed by the equally-few German fighter planes, thereby dumping most of these intended-escapees back into the water, while the even fewer RAF fighters (eventually, only Farrier, with even his sorties limited by almost-depleted-fuel-tanks) trying desperately to provide protection, the structure of the film seemed much more restricted than the pre-lease-hype had prepared me for.

 Added to this was the film's primary focus on only 1 private rescue boat—the Dawson vessel—with the scared, disoriented soldier demanding a return to England rather than helping anyone else (plus his inadvertent fatal damage to George), so easily halfway into this narrative I was having trouble getting a sense of the enormity of the event as it all seemed to be about no more than roughly a dozen characters (even though I knew better). As it all builds toward climax, though, we come to understand how difficult it was for any of these stranded soldiers to effectively escape their dire-situation as large boats continue to be damaged, throwing already-traumatized-troops back into the deep waters, desperately swimming to whatever-other-craft might be in their vicinity, many of them drowning or perishing in the water-borne-fire in a calamity too overpowering to allow a 2nd escape.

 However, I now see my induced-pre-screening-expectations of depicted events more grandiose in the final rescue effort (a filmic-structure somehow finding a way to confirm the long-delayed-Allied-triumph—despite all their horrible losses in the process—on the order of the ultimately-successful-assault on Omaha Beach and surrounding areas in 1962’s The Longest Day [Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, Bernhard Wicki, Gerd Oswald, Darryl F. Zanuck] or 1998’s Saving Private Ryan) as being not at all what Nolan intended to accomplish with Dunkirk. Instead,  we find he keeps his focus on some considerably-more-intimate-narrative-structures; thus, despite the reality of more RAF airplanes shooting down more German bombers than what we see here the focus remains on the singular efforts of Farrier to finally clear the skies of the few deadly pilots who wreaked such havoc on the initial attempts of departing Allied ships, just as scenes toward the end of this story show those many thousands of troops making it to the safety of English soil although we mostly witness only the relatively-small-number able to scramble out of the Channel cramming onto the Dawson boat.  The larger picture implied by these focused-events (including the reality-slaps of this not being a recreation of a Hollywood attempt at home-front-enthusiasm from the 1940s as we watch the conflicted situation
of George's death and the anticlimactic capture of Farrier after all of his heroic actions—including landing safely on what looked like a deserted beach after coaxing his wheels into last-second-proper-position) tells us that this war has a long way to go before there’s going to be anything to celebrate except for a bit of exhausted-relief, but that sense of restrained-victory only adds to the overall sense of dignified-sincerity offered to us in Dunkirk.  Some claim this to be among the best ever of war films, others that it’s certainly the best of Nolan’s filmography (for me, though, that’s still Inception [2010]).  Despite my growing—now reflective—admiration for this film, I’m not ready to go to “very best” heights yet (Schindler’s List [Spielberg, 1993] still holds that distinction, although if you argue it’s a wartime rather than an actual war film [meaning that designation needs to offer battlefield focus], then we'll have a larger conceptual discussion), but I do agree that it’s appropriately brutal to watch, admirably-inspirational to contemplate in retrospect, and worthy of all the respect it gets (although I predict its embedding into historical remembrance plus its balance of acting opportunities that prevent any of the leads from a standout-performance will likely leave it wanting come awards time, no matter how much high respect it’s garnering now).

Once again Nolan's got Hardy wearing a mask most of the time,
just like when he was Bane in The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
 You probably know by this point in the flow (You’re a regular reader of the Two Guys blog, aren’t you? Somebody is because I just broke the 40,000 mark for unique hits over the last month.) I always  try to wrap up my reviews with a Musical Metaphor intended to speak in a notable final fashion to whatever has just been analyzed (but from the perspective of another artform), so this time I’ll go right past what many tunes might have been used here to address the admirable-heroism demonstrated by those ordinary folks risking their lives to bring all of these stranded soldiers back home again from mortal danger to instead focus on the underlying message I get from this film about the eternally-brutal-absurdity of such conflict by using Edwin Starr’s “War” (from the 1970 War & Peace album) at (Starr’s 1969 music video, with lyrics below the image, although if you want to extend the Metaphor further go here for the Starr recording with added footage, including a montage of film clips about warfare over the centuries leading to images of various soldiers still marching in defensive posture then contrasted to other shots of military members dancing instead) with its denunciation of such ferocious activity as just “nothing but a heartbreaker, Friend only to the undertaker War is the enemy of all mankind.”  

 Now I know a song asking “War, what is it good for?” followed by an answer of “Absolutely nothing” goes counter to my premise in the above section about some—WW II in particular—being necessary (“They say we must fight to keep our freedom But Lord knows there’s gotta be a better way”), but I’ll re-counter with the argument that when hostilities are initiated by territory-hungry, crazed dictators then this is war that should never have happened to begin with (“the enemy of all mankind”) that’s truly “good for […] Absolutely nothing” (a concept I urge you to “say it, say it, say it again”)Dunkirk shows us how war can bring out the best in those burdened by its horrors, but we’d all be better off seeing it as “something […to] despise Because it means the destruction of innocent lives,” even if harsh retaliation is sometimes needed for triumph over crazed warmongers.
SHORT TAKES (spoilers also appear here)
                                             A Ghost Story (David Lowery)
This is a strange bit of business that’s more of a meditation on the nature of the afterlife than a traditional unified plot although there’s a clear chronology of events (until the end when whatever’s happening gets more complicated); we see a young couple in deep passion, then the man’s dead with his ghost continuing to stay in their home even long after the wife is long-gone.
 By now I hope you know the “Near-Intolerable” in my title for this posting refers not to miserable on-screen-presentations in the 2 films under review but instead to the atrocious events befalling the characters you’ve now read about in Dunkirk, with another form of misery about to “haunt” the 2 main entities in A Ghost Story; you’ll also realize after a bit more info from me why this next film—despite my near-top-ratingis assigned to more-restrained Short Takes commentary: it’s because, like my remarks on Moka in the previous Two Guys posting (although it earned only 3½ stars), this film’s so hard to find—playing in only 43 domestic theaters after 3 weeks in release, having earned only about $476 thousand so far (not much of that from the screening Nina and I attended, only 5 others joined us for a Friday afternoon late matinee) as well as being so odd in its conception and execution you’ll likely either be so intrigued by it that even brief comments will stir you to seek it out if one of those few screens is anywhere near you (more likely, put it on your video queue) or you’ll be so quickly put off by even a short description you’ll be glad you didn’t have to endure more here.

 Basically, what happens is a young couple (Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara) seem to be having some marital disputes; she’s ready to move out of their countryside house (this was shot near Austin, TX, although the end credits note some north central TX locations as well, all territory easily recognized by me) but for no strong reason he’s not; one night they hear a mysterious banging on an old piano that came with the house; in the next scene he’s suddenly shown as dead from some unexplained car crash at the end of their long driveway even though there seems to be no sign of any visibility problems anywhere in these wide open spaces, then for the rest of the (appropriately-felt) 92 min. running time he’s a ghost staying in the house (he walked back there, guess these ghosts don’t fly) for what seems like it’s going to be an eternity even after she leaves, other people move in and out, the house is torn down so a company’s skyscraper can be built on the site with a huge city finally taking over this formerly-rural-location.  At this point he dives off the building, landing in the 19th century where White settlers arrive to stake out a home on what will someday be his properly (but they're killed by Native Americans—at least we suddenly see them dead with arrows in their backs),
although we’d led to wonder what connection, if any, there may be between these folks and the ghost’s present era because this family’s little girl also hides a note, under a rock, in a manner that reminds us of the one left ages ago by his long-gone-wife in the wall of their empty former house.

 Then the ghost returns to the beginning-of-story-present where we find he’s the one who banged on the piano as his unnamed character’s (called C in the end credits) simultaneously alive with the wife (M), followed by the appearance of another version of himself as a similar ghost, after which he finally retrieves the note his wife long ago left in the wall, resulting in his ghostly sheet falling to the ground implying he’s finally moved on to whatever the next phase of existence may be (apparently he had an option for that after his dead body was taken to the hospital when a panel of light opened up on a wall but then closed when he didn’t walk into it; we also saw the sheet-dropping-disappearance of another ghost earlier in the house-smashing-scene prior to construction when she finally decided that whomever she was waiting for [she couldn’t even remember] was never going to come back).

 If what I’ve already told you about A Ghost Story hasn’t given you pause about why you’d possibly might want to see it, then you should also consider these other factors: the whole thing’s shot in the old 4x3 ratio (used for movies prior to roughly the 1960s as well as TV shows before the wider letterbox format became the standard a couple of decades ago) with the enhancement of rounded corners (to further the nostalgic/lost sense of time the director sought to achieve [you can find more explanations from Lowery if you watch this 11:37 interview]); there’s even less dialogue than in Dunkirk (except for an extended nihilist monologue by a guy [Will Oldham], called Prognosticator in the credits, during a future occupation of the ghost’s house about how we all try to leave an impact of ourselves in some way after we’re gone but it’s all useless because eventually the universe will die [reminds me of little Alvy Singer’s {Jonathan Munk as a kid, Woody Allen as an adult} premise in Annie Hall {Allen, 1977} that there’s no point in doing his homework because the universe is slowly expanding to the point of dismemberment]) so you’d better appreciate Daniel Hart’s musical score if you want something to listen to; the takes in most scenes continue at length 
with little movement in the shots (another of the director's many designs to convey the spirit's sense of timelessness, although this tactic also reminds me of Showtime TV's current series Twin Peaks: The Return [David Lynch] with its similar use of static shots that just linger beyond any normal conception of obviously-intentional-dramatic-use-of-pause); at one point C’s ghost notices there’s the presence of another ghost (Lowery refers to her as “Grandma Ghost,” plays her himself) in the house next door so they communicate briefly seemingly by telepathy (which we read in subtitles); and—if you haven’t figured it out from the photos—Affleck’s appearance as a ghost is achieved simply by him wearing a large sheet (but not as simple as it seems; again, consult Lowery interview) with pitch-black-eyeholes, as if they had to spend the film’s entire budget on the pie (M slowly, sadly eats it all in one long scene before she hurries to the bathroom to throw it up) so they couldn’t afford any costumes or special effects.  Whether you accept this as a strategy to make the departed version of C more tangible—more easily translated as a culturally-established-stereotype of a ghost—or just see it as a silly, distracting conceptual choice likely determines whether you’d have any interest in this film or not.

 If you know much about film history you might sense that this simple (but mysterious in its many ways) story has some resemblances to Last Year at Marienbad (Alain Resnais, 1961) in terms of those long takes and static shots, plus a very odd, unexplained, disconnected sense of time, characters referred to only as alphabet letters in the credits, occasional uses of powerful music in the  foreground (although this aged classic has notably more dialogue, but—in the context of its deconstruction of what we normally expect about how the editing of one shot should be intended to provide continuity into the next, along with our usual expectations about clarity of plot timelines, even when flashbacks are part of the narrative—those words doesn’t convey much), and a general sense of disruption of what we’ve come to expect from the processes and encounters of cinema, even as the 2 films couldn’t be any more different in terms of location, character-class-consciousness, level of challenge-complexity to the viewer.  That comparison, along with the overall singular sensation of how intentionally-unexplained although subtly-mesmerizing A Ghost Story becomes through the process of watching, might entice you to consider this a fascinating look at what might be the nature of post-death existence, especially when the disembodied spirit (another challenge, accepting that premise when the ghost is so physically, photographically present, manifested at times by his frustration with this state of existence) finds the capacity to toss books or plates around in fits of anger but can’t make any contact with his widow (or most anyone else, except a little boy who lives there for awhile until the plate-smashing episode) nor get her note out of the wall until he’s back in what began as the present for the second time (now I’ll insist you watch the Lowery interview to find out the content of the note), after which he finally accepts the director’s intention of this story to just learn to “let go.”

 Even more so than with Dunkirk, I think to appreciate A Ghost Story (if you even care to at this point) you have to see it unfold in its generally-slow, constantly-cryptic fashion rather than try to make much sense of it from my attempt at a verbal account.  I predict that you’ll either find it “hauntingly”-fascinating or a ridiculous waste of your time; I go with the former response, but—as I experienced Dunkirk—it took some of my time to be encouraged into what was happening on screen for me to feel that way (so even if at this time you’re unsure about it, then later choose it for a video viewing, you need to give it a chance to be what it is not what you’d think it might attempt to do—certainly not play up tangible/intangible romance through reconnection as was so popular years ago with Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost [Jerry Zucker, 1990]), to be securely-confirmed I was witnessing something of unexpected-intrigue rather than just an interesting idea that hadn’t yet come to fruition; I can’t say that everyone who encounters A Ghost Story will feel that way, but if what I’ve said about it intrigues you enough, I encourage to explore it further.  I’ll leave you with a Musical Metaphor for this film, “I Need You” from The Beatles’ Help! movie (Richard Lester, 1965; the song is also found on their accompanying 
Help! soundtrack album), at the-beatles/clip,i-need-you,rr8v3.html* (you might find this site, as I did, to be a treasure-trove of Beatles recordings that aren't easily available on the Internet anymore [now that their music's become a part of fee-charging-iTunes] except for some of those early performances you can locate at times) where George Harrison’s sad, plaintive words about “Please come on back to me I’m lonely as can be I need you” could easily be the thoughts of both C and M in A Ghost Story after what we've briefly noted at the beginning about “Said you had a thing or two to tell me” worked into the pain of “How was I to know it would upset me?”, with whatever their issues were never being resolved after his sudden death so when she leaves the house with the bad memories (and the secret note) behind all he’s left with is “I could never really live without you,” even though his existence endures through unspecified years, longing to somehow connect with her once again.

*Oddly enough, if you play this clip on Safari you may get an unsynchronized dual-tracking of the song (which I can't begin to explain), although if you click on the controls of the video the extra audio will stop but so will the flow of the imagery; however, you can also copy the URL as it's playing, stop the Safari version, paste the URL onto another Web browser (I tried it successfully on Chrome and Firefox), and it should play properly.  This only happened during posting, not when I found the site using Safari, so I have no idea what in the hell's going on with this weird anomaly.

 I admit, though, the melancholy of the film and this song, when seen in this film clip, begin to approach the silliness of how some might see A Ghost Story with the Fab Four singing out in some field while some sort of war games are going on around them (as if Dunkirk’s crossing over into A Ghost Story in a Mel Brooks genre-parody-manner), so maybe I’ve found a way to appeal both to those who’ll take this oddly-sad-film to heart as well as those who’ll just ridicule it.  I’ll leave you to contemplate such cosmic considerations until next we meet, in this lifetime or another.  In the meantime, if you’d like to take over the singing of “I Need You” yourself, here’s a karaoke version to let you warble away into the night until you may find you need  “help” to get off stage.
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Here’s more information about Dunkirk: (10:05 comparison of fact vs. fiction regarding what we see in Dunkirk, although it’s mostly fact intended to give a brief historical understanding of the events shown in the film) and (31:11 interview with Jack Lowden, Barry Keoghan, Mark Rylance, Fionn Whitehead, Harry Stiles, producer Emma Thomas, and screenwriter-director Christopher Nolan, where for once in situations like this everyone speaks quite a bit rather than the director saying almost everything)

Here’s more information about A Ghost Story: (28:12 interview with writer-director David Lowery [begins with the same trailer just above])

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If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken*

*Please note that YouTube keeps taking down various versions of this majestic Eagles performance at their 1998 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame so I keep putting in newer links (of the same damn material) to retrieve it; this “Hotel California” link was active when I did this posting but the song won’t be available in all of our previous ones done before 7/6/2017.  Sorry, but there are too many postings to go back and re-link every one.  The corporate overlords triumph again.

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.
Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 40,588 (once again, a new all-time-high!); below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week:

Thursday, July 20, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes and Short Takes on Moka

“Vengeance is mine,” Saith … Whoever’s the Angriest Amongst Us

                                                      Reviews by Ken Burke
                    War for the Planet of the Apes (Matt Reeves)
In this concluding episode of the current … Apes trilogy we find enhanced-intelligence chimp Caesar attempting to lead his tribe away from the forests of northern California while trying to protect themselves from the quasi-military force of The Colonel, intent on killing every remaining ape so that our world’s sparse human population won’t be replaced by another species.
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): Building clearly on what’s gone before in Rise … and Dawn of the Planet ..., this story focuses on intelligent, eloquent-speaking chimp Caesar’s attempt to avoid ongoing warfare with a quasi-military group, the Alpha-Omega led by a brutal ape-killer known as The Colonel, by moving his large tribe completely away from their present home in the wilds of northern California.  However, that plan’s already under attack by advance forces of The Col. so there are some brutal battle scenes in this movie but not many for a story with “war” in its title.  Mostly, we focus on the conflicted emotions that peace-attempting Caesar must wrestle with as he simultaneously attempts to get his fellow apes far away from these ruthless killers while also seething with the need for revenge against The Col. who managed to kill Caesar’s wife and elder son in a raid on the apes’ refuge.  To go beyond that in these comments would ruin the surprises this tale offers so unless you choose to read on in spoiler-land below I’ll just say there’s a lot more emotion and consideration of what it takes for any species (including ours) to remain “human” in the face of disaster than you might expect from a franchise sci-fi series built on intense hostile conflicts.

 I do generally recommend your attendance at War for the Planet of the Apes because it’s a well-crafted visual experience where the motion-capture of human actors has been successfully overlaid with believable computer imagery to allow all of these simians—chimps, orangutans, gorillas—to become plausible co-performers with the humans on screen, plus there’s more well-constructed tension than actual combat during the (admittedly, too-long) running time so this movie’s not as battle-heavy as it might imply.  However, it’s stuffed with allusions to previous … Apes episodes and other cultural markers that get a bit overbearing at times, unless you prefer to celebrate that stuff.

So, curious readers, if you can abide plot spoilers in order to learn much more about the particular cinematic offering under examination this week please feel free to read on for more of the traditional Two Guys in-depth-explorations in our brilliant (!)-but-lengthy review format.
What Happens: Opening graphics briefly summarize major events in the first 2 movies of this … Apes trilogy (more details in this review's next section), then we’re thrown into a northern California forest where a large tribe of enhanced-intelligence-apes, led by Caesar (voice and motion capture of Andy Serkis), try to live in peace in a huge enclosure behind a waterfall (reminds me somewhat of the Wookie dwellings in the Star Wars stories), but that’s not to be because a human paramilitary force called Alpha-Omega, led by a demented, gung-ho guy known as The Colonel (Woody Harrelson), is pushing further into the apes’ woodland home, resulting in an initial, intense battle between men with guns and bombs, apes on horseback mostly with spears.  Many die on both sides, but 4 humans and renegade-gorilla Red (Ty Olsson)—a follower of the late bonobo disrupter, Koba (Toby Kebbell), killed by Caesar in the previous Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Reeves, 2014; review in our July 18, 2014 posting [useful commentary, even if I do say so myself, marred by atrocious layout needing much better paragraph breakup {for the record, I still think the titles of these 2 opening episodes, now beginning with Rise ..., should be reversed for logical clarity, but, gee whiz, nobody in Hollywood’s calling me up for advice!}])—are captured by Caesar’s forces.

 Red breaks loose, but the others (focused on Preacher [Gabriel Chavarria]) are sent back with a message Caesar’s tribe only wants to be left alone so they can vacate the territory completely.  This doesn’t happen either because gorilla Winter (Aleks Paunovic), captured by the soldiers, is forced to reveal the apes’ location so The Colonel and a few backups slip in one night, the gruesome leader able to kill both Caesar’s wife, Cornelia (Judy Greer), and eldest son, Blue Eyes (Max Lloyd-Jones).

 Caesar sends the rest of the tribe off on their long journey to a new home far away while he goes to find The Colonel for a reckoning but, against his wishes, he’s joined by loyal companions Rocket (Terry Notary)—a chimp just like Caesar—Maurice (Karin Konoval)—a huge orangutan—and big Luca (Michael Adamthwaite)—a kind-but-no-nonsense gorilla. Moving along the CA coast they encounter a lone human whom they kill when he attempts to fire on them but then discover his little mute daughter (Amiah Miller), whom Maurice insists travel with them rather than be left to die so she easily becomes a close companion, despite the sudden, violent loss of her father at the hands (paws?) of this group; they name her Nova after an old Chevy logo given to her by Maurice (more on that later).  The group’s soon joined by another loner, Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), a semi-hairless zoo refugee (where he got his name from unsympathetic humans) who somehow knows The Col.’s troops are headed for an old military post near the CA border, to be joined by a larger armed contingent from the north.  When our travelers reach this destination they’re horrified to find their tribe’s been captured, with the adults brutally put to work hauling rocks to fortify a wall around the enclosure, the ape children (including Caesar’s younger son, Cornelius [Deyvn Dalton]) in confinement.  Luca’s killed by an Alpha-Omega patrol, Caesar goes into the camp alone only to be captured himself by Red (now called Donkey; he and a few other Koba followers joined up with The Col.'s army to avoid punishment from Caesar’s tribe).

 Caesar learns from a forced interview with The Col. the Simian Flu’s mutated, causing a new crisis in humans (still alive after the initial plague) it infects so they lose speech, then regress to a wild animal state; The Col.’s waging a “holy war” to kill any ape he can find but also any infected human—including his own son—to prevent further spread of the virus.  He also kills anyone who won’t obey his orders, so those other soldiers are coming to terminate not reinforce The Col.’s crazed-command, thus the stone barrier to help hold them off.  (Any comments about a maniac building a wall to shut out his unwanted arrivals should be sent to the op-ed page of your local “fake news.”)

 Caesar initially tries to stir up a rebellion among these ape slaves (beaten with whips so there’s no question about the racial-allusions here) but they soon go back to work to prevent him from being killed.  His next move's an attempt to convince the vicious, authoritarian Col. McCullough to give some food and water to these forced-workers if they’re expected to keep hauling those large rocks (I guess The Col.'s been given this surname so he wouldn't have a German accent, as other familiar allusions will also emerge in this movie), a plea that succeeds but Caesar’s still tortured by being tied to an X-shaped cross.  However, with some coordination from Maurice, Rocket, Bad Ape, and Nova an old tunnel’s found beneath the camp so the plan is for holes to be opened in the tunnel’s roof, allowing the captives to slip away during the night (a further complication occurs when rising underground water forces some of the tunnel to be shut off—the part under the kids’ compoundbut a shift in strategy allows all of them to escape) at the same time the invading soldiers arrive so The Col.’s men are shooting at everything that moves, including Preacher wounding Caesar (even though Preacher’s life was spared in those opening scenes) just as Red has a change of heart, killing Preacher before he can
hurt Caesar any further, Red himself dead in the process.  During all this chaos, Caesar—admitting his hate’s as real and damaging as was Koba’s—makes his way into the cruel Col.’s quarters to find him now mute (Nova snuck into the prison to bring food and water to Caesar, left her little doll, The Colonel took it from Caesar’s cell, apparently got infected), wanting to die, but Caesar refuses to shoot him so he takes the pistol, kills himself.  Then, just as the competing-armies’ battle ends with surrender of The Col.’s troops (after Caesar set off a massive set of fuel-tank-chain-explosions, an act demolishing most of the facility) the new soldiers start to aim their weapons at the escaping apes only for all the humans to suddenly be buried by a huge avalanche, as most of the apes escape harm up into the surrounding tall trees.  When all is calm again, the apes (along with Nova) make their journey to the far-away-new-home Blue Eyes found on an earlier scouting trip; however, Caesar—up on a hillside with Maurice, watching the joy of his now-ecstatic-tribe—is dying from his battle-wound, as his closest friend assures him Cornelius will know of his father’s importance to this new world of apes.

So What? As noted above, this trilogy is very tight with plot lines so we find that characters and circumstances flow easily from one episode to the next beginning (15 years back from the actions of War ...) with the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rupert Wyatt, 2011) where scientists in high-tech San Francisco labs conduct experiments with serums intended to enhance the intelligence levels in various simian species, with chimpanzee Caesar showing the most success but with a desire to no longer be a “lab rat” so he ultimately leads a rebellion of ape-escapees from laboratory and zoo cages across the Golden Gate Bridge (with massive fighting all along the way) to the wilds of Muir Woods, north of SF; however, the same concoction spurring intelligence in the apes proves to be a fatal virus to most humans, so in a short time the Simian Flu decimates most of the globe’s homo sapiens apes—us—except for the random souls blessed with genetic immunity.  10 years later (by movie timeline) in Dawn …, Caesar and his tribe try to live a peaceful coexistence from their forest home with the few remaining SF humans in the ruins of their city, but the stability’s broken when renegade-ape Koba (Toby Kebbell), still furious from his lab-experiments-mistreatment, mocks an attack on Caesar which allows this new leader to initiate violent action against the humans, threatening to destroy them all (soldiers are contacted to come in from some distance to help) so Caesar breaks his fundamental species' rule that apes (at least the non-human-ones) don’t harm each other by killing Koba (whom Caesar doesn’t feel is now behaving much like an ape anyway).

 Caesar’s long-shot-goal back then was to re-establish his tribal rule, bringing another halt to the inter-species-violence with hope for coexistence someday evolving along with all of these newly-intelligent apes. (Only a random few of them speak, though, while all the rest of them seem to understand Caesar and any other of the English-speakers—I never got the impression that any of them are bilingual but none of the humans in these stories seem to be either—yet communicate with sign language which is translated via subtitles to the audience; in that I’m not fluent in that mode of interaction I’ll just assume these signs are from a standard human code although I guess they could be ape-based.)  However, as War … begins we immediately see soldiers under the command of The Colonel have been indoctrinated into the mantra of “The only good ape is a dead ape,” so warfare is the sole option as long as these opposed species have to share their northern CA environment, with escape to a distant location the only hope the harrier apes have for survival, assuming their weapon-ready-distant cousins* wouldn’t come searching for them across the vast distance they’re trying to escape to.  (Even though this trilogy is set in a rather limited realm of the U.S. Pacific Northwest with no clarity at this point whether clusters of apes and/or humans exist anywhere else on the planet, although if there are other sequels—as rumor currently has it—then that would be a likely plot aspect to develop.)

*I’m sure there are more current studies available (even though I haven’t read them), but I keep recommending Desmond Morris’ The Naked Ape (1967, just prior to release of Planet of the Apes) for its science-rather-than-religion-based exploration of how we humans are also apes, biologically, with detailed analyses of where we’re similar to/different from the other members of our family tree.

Planet of the Apes (1968)
 What now gives me a 2-pronged-trepidation of what could come in future … Apes stories is the fear they’re going to follow the same pattern of Ridley Scott’s never-ending-prequels that still apparently have much more to go before we can connect all of the dots that come between his Prometheus (2012; review in our June 14, 2012 posting) and his original Alien (1979)—in that his Alien: Covenant (you can find a review in the Two Guys' June 1, 2017 posting) proved to be more of a detour than a direct line of that narrative’s development.  Even Reeves (in his brief explanation in the 4th link to this movie that's available for your access here, farther below this review) implies that what we’ve been witnessing in this … Apes trilogy could lead to the events of the original Planet of the Apes (Franklin J. Schaffner, 1968), a connection that Reeves encourages despite it being difficult to harmonize the older narrative with this new version of Caesar’s life (unless events of that far-distant-story are altered) because in the much-earlier movie the intelligent apes result from more-roundabout-events as U.S. astronauts led by George Taylor (Charlton Heston) fly into a time warp sending them from 1972 to 3978, unknowingly landing on Earth again to find humans are mute beasts living in the jungles while various ape species run this planet whose identity is revealed to Taylor (and us) at movie’s end as Earth, long changed as the result of atomic warfare and mutated-evolution.  By the end of its sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes (Ted Post, 1970), Taylor’s determined this new version of his old home is an abomination so he activates a doomsday nuclear weapon (with “Alpha” and “Omega” written on it) destroying Earth but not before sympathetic-scientist-chimps Cornelius (Roddy McDowell) and Zira (Kim Hunter) time-travel back to current day Earth (Escape from the Planet of the Apes [Don Taylor, 1971]) where, in due time, their son Caesar (also played by Roddy
Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)
McDowell), will lead a group of now-intelligent simians used as slaves (another intended racial analogy) in a rebellion against their human masters, resulting in the horrible all-out-nuclear-war which eventually changes the nature of our fragile world forever (Conquest of the Planet of the Apes [J. Lee Thompson, 1972], Battle for the Planet of the Apes [Thompson, 1973])—until it's blown up in the distant futurewith the remaining humans and apes finally living in harmony by 2670 (how the human race then regressed into what we see as history-denied, condemned beasts by the much-later-era-apes shown in the original Planet…’s plot is never addressed).  So, not only would this current … Apes trilogy-chronology have to go through a couple of millennia to catch up with Taylor’s story but there’d also have to be lots of ‘splainin’ to do to even begin to make it all fit; I just hope we’re not going to be inundated with … Apes movies for the rest of this century in an attempt to weave all of these disconnected storylines together (with a hint that Reeves or whoever will try because of the inclusion in War … of the Simian Flu mutation that turns humans into lower-cognition, speechless animals which would eventually line up with the presentation of most of Earth’s humans shown in Taylor’s shock-filled-encounters).*

* I’ve made no attempt to find rationale to include Tim Burton’s remake of The Planet of the Apes (2001) where Earth astronaut Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) ends up in a familiar, future-set, simian-dominated environment (but on a different planet), yet these apes simply evolved from ones also sent from Earth that arrived long before Davidson did.  However, when he escapes to return home he finds Earth of his time is now also dominated by intelligent apes, but studio disinterest in pursuing previously-planned-sequels (despite a hefty $362.2 million global gross, far dwarfing the estimated $160 million worldwide for the original 5 … Apes movies) leaves this oddity as an outlier in the franchise, with its mysterious, disturbing ending never given a clarification (unless you read the original Pierre Boulle novel [1963] which is considerably more like Burton’s version of this story).

 What I’d also prefer not to see too much more of—if additional … Apes sequels (or maybe they’re all just one continuous prequel, relative to what we eventually find in Taylor’s journey) become marketing-inevitabilities—is additional uses of pastiche that the current filmmakers admit they have generously taken from a wealth of movies screened in preparation for the script of War …, with distinctive aspects found in Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979) as well as The Ten Commandments (Cecil B. DeMille, 1956) the most obvious influences, given the bald-headed, barbaric character of The Colonel only missing a chance to mumble “The horror, the horror” for a complete connection to the rogue Col. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) of that jungle-warfare-classic (along with the “Ape-pocalypse” graffiti in the military compound’s tunnel, scrawled by escaping humans from this detention center back when the plague first emerged) plus the conceit of Caesar finally leading his “people” to the “promised land,” then not being able to join them as his destiny was to die when his journey was finished (although at least it was from a fatal wound, not for some minor transgression against his prickly Deity [in my nasty, no-longer-Christian opinion]).  Based on the long list of other movies I’ve read about that Reeves and his team studied in preparation for War …'s structure I’m sure there are numerous other intimations here as well (such as the girl Nova referencing Taylor’s likewise-silent-human-female-companion [Linda Harrison] in both Planet … and Beneath …) as well as the latter movie's Alpha, Omega notation on the doomsday bomb corresponding to the “doomsday agenda” of The Colonel’s scorched-earth policy toward all apes and any humans (including himself) infected with the horrid Simian Flu mutation.  

 I’m sure these recognizable references (including scenes with Caesar in the prison camp suffering in crucifixion mode yet still bringing about life-giving-sustenance for the tormented apes when The Colonel finally allows them grain [i.e. bread] and water [maybe it could be miraculously turned into wine?] in a pseudo-Last Supper-manner that couldn’t be clearer in its Christ-allusions, wrapping up nicely with the Moses-allusions noted above [just as ABC TV always runs DeMille’s Exodus classic at Eastertime instead of something like The Greatest Story Ever Told {George Stevens, 1965} which is obviously directly about Jesus' life]) are all quite clever but ultimately, for me, just a bit too much.

Bottom Line 
Final Comments: Overall critical response to War for the Planet of the Apes has been quite outstanding, with 94% positive reviews surveyed by Rotten Tomatoes, an average of 83% by the normally-lower-scoring-folks at Metacritic; the box-office results have been healthy as well, with the worldwide gross after only 1 week in release already at about $106.3 million (about $62 million from the domestic [U.S.-Canada] market), well on its way (if this pace keeps up) to balancing/bettering the estimated hefty $150 production budget and adding noticeably to the current worldwide gross of almost $1.693 billion already tallied by Rise … and Dawn … .  However, I’m no more overwhelmed by this latest entry in the reboot-trilogy than I was by its predecessors, which doesn’t mean I don’t like them (I do; 3½ stars is a very positive response from me—given to both Dawn … and War … [likely the same for Rise … had I been writing reviews then]—because 4 is normally the highest I care to go, reserving the upper numbers for cinematic experiences that are truly unique and enduring), it’s just these ongoing messages—question the source of your prejudices before making someone else suffer for them, reasonable rationale might underlie even the most brutal of antagonists just as fierce anger can taint even the noblest hero, and, ultimately, war is not the answer—are great lessons to be reinforced in the instruments of our popular culture, but we don’t need endless episodes of the same homilies to get the point across (any more than there was little except economic justification to stretch the original series out to 5 installments), just as this current movie doesn’t have to be as long as it is (2 hours, 20 minutes) to either offer its messages or resolve its plotlines (e.g. the whole business of the underground flood preventing easy access for the ape-children to the escape tunnel so they had to be evacuated by other means merely allows for another dose of great visual renderings for our pleasure but is ultimately nothing but another obvious tension-diversion in the narrative's flow for a story that's already established its arc-movement toward needed resolution).

 So, yes, I did enjoy War for the Planet of the Apes,  as I appreciated the actual combat scenes occurring only in the movie's beginning and ending aspects, allowing for other means in this story to present an array of well-conceived, fully-dimensional-character-driven actions rather than merely the rapid flinging of dying bodies all over the screen; admired the mature acknowledgement The Colonel has some possible justification for his madness (still deathly-dangerous as it may be) in both the horrible decision to kill his own son to prevent further spread of the virus and his desperate attempt to preserve the planet for humanity rather than the evolutionary-challenge of apes taking over (another allusion to what’s to come in Taylor’s time, however it may be we get there)—misguided as both these decisions were, in that scientists are working on means of reversing the effects of the mutated-virus while it’s only Koba-like-renegades who actually present any threat to humans as Caesar’s tribe simply wants to live in peace, either in or without the presence of people—while Caesar admits that even when escape from the prison compound is the only reasonable action he’s still compelled by his need for vengeance to seek out, then kill, The Colonel in retaliation for the deaths of his wife and son (although whether his decision not to shoot his adversary when he finds the man already suffering from the plague comes from a position of compassion or from letting him sink further into his misery isn’t all that clear to me, much as Caesar’s being cast in the footsteps of Moses and Christ); and am rightfully awed at the magnificent computer-generated-imagery allowing the foundational-motion-capture of human actors to be replaced by plausible images of apes so convincing you're looking for animal wranglers in the final credits (not just for the horses).  Still, the abundance of references to earlier … Apes movies and so many other “knowing” allusions gets distracting in something that’s supposed to be a serious drama (even within a fanciful-sci-fi format) rather than a celebration of postmodernism.

 To cap all of this off, though, I’ll offer you my usual review-conclusion-strategy of listening to a Musical Metaphor to give one final dose of insight toward some commentary or just consideration but from the viewpoint of an aural artform.  In the case of War for the Planet of the Apes I’m going with Ten Years After’s “I’d Love to Change the World” (from their 1971 album A Space in Time) at https://www. E7T3S-s* (a video adding contemporary footage to the song, emphasizing our sad human trends toward craziness and destruction) because from both sides of this filmic conflict we have central characters asking “Tell me where is sanity?” even as their passionately-proposed-solutions exist in direct-oppositional-conflict toward each other (The Colonel’s troops are brainwashed to view apes as unacceptable enemies, but then we’re told the arriving soldiers out to terminate The Colonel also see the apes as even more deadly opponents so there seems to be no hope for compromise; Caesar’s apes are willing to try to follow him to salvation somewhere over the mountains [at least it won't take them 40 years to wander through the desert to get there] but constant aggression from humans has eradicated all hope of coexistence from Dawn …); both sides would “love to change the world” to a vision they long for, but their strategies haven’t worked so far as both admit “I don’t know what to do, So I’ll leave it up to you,” whomever “you” may be that could bring some peace to this war-torn-world, as the earlier Caesar was able to do somehow at the end of the previous … Apes series decades ago.

*If you’d rather watch the original band in a studio recording performance—with a brief introduction by singer/songwriter/guitarist Alvin Leethen you can watch this; if that puts you in an Alvin Lee-mood you might also like to see this group’s performance of "I'm Going Home" (on their 1968 Undead album) from the 1969 Woodstock Festival, presented in multi-image-fashion in the Woodstock doc (Michael Wadleigh, 1970)—but settle back for this one, it runs 11:23—that could also relate in Musical Metaphor fashion to our apes’ passionate quest to just get away from turmoil, to find some arena of serenity: As the refrain constantly repeats, “I’m goin’ home, to see my baby” (which could be understood as lover or child; remember, we’re blissfully in Metaphor-mode here).

 We’d like to think that once Caesar’s tribe found their new home somehow they’d be able to dwell there peacefully, but if various filmmakers are determined to once again get us to the calamities of Taylor’s so much later … Apes world then we’re just destined for more “world pollution, there’s no solution, institution, electrocution” scenarios, despite the intended-serene-closure-scene of this current tale, with its bombastic music, vivid colors, and easy (if not scary) resemblance to the overblown cinematics of The Ten Commandments (with a possible unintended comment of “Look how that scenario’s [the Israelites re-entering their homeland] worked out a few thousand years later”).  Will any species within the great family of apes (our included) ever find the peace that Caesar and his tribe seek?  Sometimes it doesn’t seem any more likely in a movie scenario than in real life as long as we focus on differences between communities, conflicting appetites for resources, rigid assumptions of hostility.  If we can learn anything from these … Apes scenarios maybe it’ll be about trust, cooperation, or hesitating before pulling the trigger.  I’d love to change the world too; would you?
SHORT TAKES (spoilers also appear here)
                                                     Moka (Frédéric Mermoud)
A woman in Switzerland (just across Lake Geneva from France) is distraught by a family tragedy which has her on the prowl to track down the perpetrators in order to gain a sense of justice; her private investigations lead her to a couple with whom she makes carefully-constructed-contact only to have the entire situation become more complex than she assumed.

 Although I’m generally enthusiastic about Moka, I’m consigning it to my Short Takes section because I realize it’s so obscure that, unlike the huge opening splash made by War …, this film didn’t even make Box Office Mojo’s Top 45 listings in last weekend’s gross tallies after 5 weeks in domestic release so all I know at present is it’s taken in somewhere in the very limited vicinity of $72.6 thousand in northern North America (no income info for me about other global markets even though Moka’s been out since almost a year ago in some European countries), currently playing in a tiny number of domestic theaters (last info I had is 14 for the weekend of July 7-9, 2017) so if you’re interested in seeing it some form of video is your most likely option (with the warning the dialogue’s in French so unless that’s one of your languages you’ll have to deal with subtitles, often an anathema for American audiences—I’ll also admit that when Nina and I saw it with our regular-film-attending-friend, Michaele [not a typo; her father wanted a boy, thus she added the final “e” later], we were the only ones in the Berkeley, CA Shattuck theater so I admit this story’s not drawing in even small audiences).  That’s too bad (unless you have a great home viewing system) because the scenery in Évian, France, along with Lausanne, Switzerland and the connecting scenic Lake Geneva, looks great on the big screen, although the intimate mystery quality of the story will likely still play well in somewhat smaller imagery.  This mysterious atmosphere starts right from the beginning as a woman, Diane Kramer (Emmanuelle Devos)—a writer trying to spur herself into necessary action—is shown  banging her head against a glass door, then she’s in bed smoking while barely-perceptible-but-ominous-background-music underlies her presence, after which she slips out of whatever this location is (avoiding a couple of attendants) into the night, catches a train, then surprises her husband, Simon (Samuel Labarthe), when she returns home (from what we later surmise must be some sort of sanitarium—for which she says he should be the more-likely-patient).

 Simon’s not all that pleased to see his wife (nor her with him) as they’re at bitter odds over something (not disclosed to us yet) which leads to the next scene, featuring an unnamed-private-eye (Jean-Philippe Écoffey) who tells Diane that he’s narrowed a search down to 4 cars in their vicinity (Lausanne, though much of the story occurs across the lake in Évian), all of which somewhat match what an eyewitness-bus-driver saw as  a mocha-colored-vehicle (thus the title, in French).  She goes on a stakeout for each car, deciding the 2nd one seems right enough (to not bother with the other 2) about a blond female driver so she plays out separate stalking scenarios with the woman, Marlène (Nathalie Baye)—who runs a local beauty shop—and her partner (as she says, although they seem to be married), Michel (David Clavel)—who’s offering their car for sale, although Diane questions him about what seems to be recent repair work to the front bumper; by the time most of the plot has run it’s course Diane (under the guise of Hélène) has struck up conversations with Marlène in her shop, spied on her calendar to see she wasn’t at work on some fateful day, convinces Michel to sell her the car (even though he’s got another willing buyer) after visiting his business as well, a local spa where he offers swimming-pool-physical-therapy.  In the process of all this, we see Diane casually meeting younger-man-Vincent (Oliver Chantreau) on one of her lake-crossing-ferry-trips, as he slips something he’s smuggling into the water just before they dock, but later she buys a pistol from him complete with a target-practice-lesson; we learn Marlène has a young adult daughter, Élodie (Diane Rouxel), who’s snippy with Mom while yearning to move somewhere else; we find Simon’s furious with Diane—whom he tracks down to the hotel in Lausanne where she’s staying under her assumed name—for her plot; and, most importantly, that plot’s about identifying the hit-and-run-driver who killed her teenage son, Luc (Paulin Jaccoud in a flashback phone video scene), months ago, with Diane now convinced Marlène is the guilty party.

 However, this all takes a major shift when Diane confronts Marlène with her accusations only to find the woman was in Paris on business that tragic Wednesday in the past, so Diane’s not sure what she should do next (previously she’d visited Vincent at his apartment, seemingly now ready to abandon any fidelity to Simon but then decided to leave, although later she came back for some sex after all) so she ends up at a noisy nightclub for awhile, but as she’s about to leave she sees Michel in a car, amorous with his stepdaughter who then zips away on a motorcycle, followed by Diane who eventually forces the young woman to stop (although Michel will soon be there, having been called by the worried Élodie).  Confronted by Diane, Élodie admits she’s the driver who hit Luc accidently; however, Michel was with her, panicked, insisted she drive away, which she did.*  Diane tells her to leave as well, then confronts Michel when he arrives; we see her firing several shots, seemingly at him, but really just into the killer-car, with a warning for Michel to go away, learn some decency toward others (“You stop, even if it’s for a dog!”).  This all wraps up when Diane tracks down Adrienne (Marion Reymond) at Luc’s school (they were orchestra partners, maybe more, as he had video of her on his cellphone which Diane’s kept and often viewed) in an effort to bring closure to this girl as well, with Adrienne reciprocating as she shows phone-video of Luc to his mother as the film ends.

The Great Gatsby (1974)
*I don't know if there’s any idea of intentional-plot-borrowing here, but I couldn’t help but think of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s very famous novel, The Great Gatsby (1925), where Daisy Buchanan and her once-upon-a-time-aspiring/gone-but-now-returned-lover, Jay Gatsby, are racing back to their separate Long Island homes after a horrible attempt at an intimate-social-getaway into Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel on a hot day with Tom, Daisy’s harshly-overbearing, obnoxious husband and a couple of others; that awful night, as Daisy’s driving Jay’s car, speeding, she accidently hits and kills Myrtle Wilson, wealthy Tom‘s plain, miserable, working-class mistress, whose badly-aggrieved husband, George, now mistakenly thinks Gatsby was Myrtle‘s lover, kills him the next day in the swimming pool of his mansion.  The details from this classic novel reflected in the current film aren’t quite parallel but are close enough to at least merit consideration, along with how the different endings to these stories move us away, at least a bit, from the revenge-killing-scenario that’s led to so much ongoing violence in our real world along with the literary and reel ones, from The Godfather’s Mafia legacy (“This Sicilian thing that’s been going on for 2,000 years!” as Kay tries to justify to husband Michael Corleone why she chose to abort the son she was carrying) to the species blood feud that fuels the
Planet of the Apes movies.  (A very effective … Gatsby film adaptation was made in 1974 [Jack Clayton] starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow; much later, a decent-but-not-great version comes to the screen in 2013 [Baz Luhrmann] featuring Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulliganmy not-fully-supportive review is in our May 17, 2013 entry if you'd like to read it).  

 While no deaths were involved with me and a car accident, I had a miserable situation where I was on a date in high school, hit the gas pedal too hard pulling away from a curb, smacked into the auto in front of me (some huge metallic monster that likely never got a dent in its bumper), then was encouraged by my frantic date to drive away quickly, which I impulsively did.  That soon resulted in my car's radiator being chewed up by the fan it’d been pushed into, a nervous call to my father when the car stopped running, a mortified explanation of my actions later that night, followed by no further dates with that girl (my choice; name withheld, despite no innocence to protect here for either of us) and more lingering guilt than either Daisy or Michel ever seemed to express, which finally faded away.

 Although the critical response to Moka has generally been solid (at RT the positive reviews stand at 83%, the MC score average is 69%, but that’s based [at the time I went to “press”] on only 18 reviews at the former, 10 at the latter, a sparse survey for either of these accumulation sites so you might want to check them again later) it’s not easy to find much about this film and even if you do you could be surprised if the death of Luc is given away easily (as it was in the 1st review that I came across, by G. Allen Johnson in the San Francisco Chronicle), if the key aspect of this carefully-constructed-mystery is revealed to you even before you take your seat (sure, I do the same, but that’s to be expected in my case; it’s a bit of a surprise when the mainstream guys do it), so by now if you do want to seek out this film you many know more than you’re supposed to as it unfolds which may undermine its ultimate impact but hopefully won’t dilute the marvelous acting by all concerned with special emphasis on the presence of Devos in the lead role, Baye in the important supporting one.  Yet, with the initial, effective establishment of a sense of conflict and tragedy, once it’s getting clear what’s going on here with the trajectory of Diane’s intention to find some sense of justice for her innocently-dispatched-son (even factoring in her possible sense of guilt because she may have caused a distraction while conversing with him on his cell phone just as he’s being hit by the infamous moka car [now removed from any association with coffee, milk, and chocolate]) the narrative moves in a mostly predictable manner toward its assumed conclusion, with the only question being whether Diane was really pumping bullets into Michel (a concern quickly resolved, but in a bit of a surprising fashion, as she seemed primed to make some amends for Luc).

 Overall, I liked Moka quite a bit, but as it evolves it loses a bit of impact for me toward the end as events begin to seem merely inevitable, although its overall sense of uniqueness gives me reason to encourage you to seek it out as long as unresolved crimes and an unjustified death (plus it's in French with subtitles) don’t give you reason to seek out something less ambiguous.  But when it came to choosing a Musical Metaphor, my initial response was to pick something in line with the steady sense of contained disgust toward Luc’s killer that’s clearly seething in Diane, such as Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” (from his 1981 debut solo album Face Value) with its scathing attitude of “Well if you told me you were drowning, I would not lend a hand” (possibly based on a divorce Collins was going through when he wrote it [a result which may be in the air for Diane and Simon too, given their estrangement]) but—appropriate as this song would be for this film (you’re welcome to listen to it if you like [this is the official music video, although that previous link of Collins and Jimmy Fallon has another link at the end to a live version done with The Roots])—I’ve used it 3 times before in other reviews (I prefer not to overdo my choices for the benefit of regular readers—all dozen of you as best I can estimate [although that may be optimistic]) and I wanted something faster that better speaks to the actual rage roaring inside of Diane so I’ve chosen instead The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” (from the U.S. version of their 1966 Aftermath album) at (from 1966 with Brian Jones on sitar and some later footage inserted, or you can watch this relatively more recent version [2006] if you prefer) as I can hear Diane admitting “I look inside myself and see my heart is black […] Black as night, black as coal I want to see the sun blotted out from the sky,” although she allows herself to mellow some after the truth’s revealed, so we’re left with her warmer memories: “If I look hard enough into the setting sun [maybe “son”?] My love will laugh with me before the morning comes.” 

 What you choose to do with your own red doors until next we meet I’ll leave to your discretion, unless you’d like to share anything in the Comments section at the very end of this posting (farther down below), which you’re always welcome to do (even if I don’t always choose to share it with the world at large, I say to you silly spammers trying to sell your various goods and bootleg movies).
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.*  Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

*We’re sorry to say that a Google software glitch causes every Two Guys in the Dark posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to the Summary page, but there are just too many to go back and fix them all.  From 8/26/16 forward this link is accurate, with hopefully not too much confusion caused by this latest stupid snafu from the Alphabet overlords’ programming problems.

Here’s more information about War for the Planet of the Apes: (quick [3:58] review of the previous … Apes  movies leading into this new episode) and (2:24 commentary by director Matt Reeves about how the new … Apes movies could ultimately evolve into the events we know of the original Planet of the Apes story in the distant future from these more recent stories)

Here’s more information about Moka: (just the trailer for this film; I couldn’t find a 2nd video of any value to enhance this review although there are several options in YouTube to watch the entire film if you wish to explore any of that possible pirating, which I'm not advocating)

Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken*

*Please note that YouTube keeps taking down various versions of this majestic Eagles performance at their 1998 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame so I keep putting in newer links (of the same damn material) to retrieve it; this “Hotel California” link was active when I did this posting but the song won’t be available in all of our previous ones done before 7/6/2017.  Sorry, but there are too many postings to go back and re-link every one.  The corporate overlords triumph again.

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.
Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 39,817—a new all-time-high!; below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week: