• THE BLUE ANGELS Have Rocketed into IMAX Theaters

    THE BLUE ANGELS Have Rocketed into IMAX Theaters

    Now playing in IMAX theaters for just one week before making its digital release on Amazon Prime on May 23, The Blue Angels takes viewers on an incredible journey with some of the world’s most elite pilots.

    Rising star Glen Powell, who has played aviators in Hidden Figures, Devotion, and most notably in Top Gun: Maverick, and who holds a pilot’s license in real life, serves as a producer and spokesperson for the outstanding documentary, which uses thrilling cinematographic techniques like those pioneered for Maverick to bring similarly riveting immediacy to the real-life exploits of the nation’s most skilled fliers.

    And as the previews like the one above demonstrate, it’s an amazing ride. All of the film’s aerial action is absolutely outstanding with knock-your-socks-off cinematography, bringing an immediate sense of reality to just how impressive and even intimate these maneuvers are. In some formations, jets may be roaring forward at 200mph while huddled only 12-18″ apart. Seeing this from a cockpit view is a lot different than getting the “air show view”. It’s eye-opening and hair-raising, especially in IMAX.

    The aerial action is not the whole story though, and the film also shares the boots-on-the-ground story of the pilots, and to a lesser extent their large support teams of trainers and mechanics, and occasional glimpses of family and home life. The film also impresses with the unreal talents and dedication of the pilots, both in the sky and on the ground – their job isn’t just in the cockpit; it’s a total immersion in training, study, and even legacy: one of the team’s duties is to select and train their successors, a process that we get to see play out as one generation of the program gives way to the next (notably including the program’s first female pilot). For their intelligence, bravery, and distinguished excellence, each of these pilots is worthy of respect and admiration.

    But stepping back and thinking more critically, the film ultimately fails to provide a satisfactory answer to a simple question: Why?

    What is the purpose or necessity of this program? Why are the Blue Angels worth millions of dollars in tax-supported defense spending annually? (The most recent number I found online was $36 million in 2022; other years or estimates range up to $40 million). Why does the US military assume the extreme risk of pilots very tangibly putting their lives on the line – and 28, we learn, have paid this ultimate price – for a function that’s for neither defense nor combat, but for an extreme form of showboating?

    I hoped for a thoughtful response addressing this, but the film inadvertently ended up reinforcing my more cynical presupposition. Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, it’s explained, created the Blue Angels as a means to bring public attention to the skills and accomplishments of naval pilots. That’s their stated purpose. The Blue Angels are a marketing machine, and it’s hard to ultimately see this film as anything but a piece of that machine.

    A thrillingly shot, stupefyingly immersive, worth-seeing-in-IMAX piece of that machine.

    – A/V Out

    Despite being heavily emphasized in its marketing as “Filmed for IMAX”, The Blue Angels won’t be there long! Get tickets now or watch on Amazon Prime beginning May 23rd.
    * Using Amazon Affiliate links can tip us with a small commission at no additional cost to you.

  • Criterion Review: DOGFIGHT (1991)

    Criterion Review: DOGFIGHT (1991)

    River Phoenix plays a Marine about to ship out to Vietnam in Nancy Savoca’s romance

    River Phoenix and Lili Taylor in DOGFIGHT. Courtesy of Criterion Collection.

    Nancy Savoca’s classic wartime romance Dogfight was once a challenge to find on home video, but Criterion Collection now gives it the respect and appreciation it deserves in their new Blu-Ray package. Set within a 24-hour period – a break for new Marines before they ship out to Okinawa on the way to Vietnam – the drama takes the audience through early ‘60s San Francisco as young Birdlace (River Phoenix, Sneakers) gets to know Rose (Lili Taylor, Say Anything…). The title refers to the misogynist betting game between the Marines, an event wherein the men bring the ugliest dates they can find, and whoever the “judges” select wins a pot of money.

    Birdlace is one of the 4Bs, along with three other guys with B last names he met in basic training. These young fellows don’t yet know themselves, so easily adopt the group machismo, this brute masculinity that doesn’t fit them comfortably. Phoenix as Birdlace is playing a character who is playing a role. We see Birdlace’s misplaced aggression at times, also his hesitancy to actually bring Rose into the club once he’s swayed her into going out with him. In an interview included on the Criterion disc, director Savoca and actress Taylor speak of Phoenix’s deep dive into the role and the vulnerability he allows to peek out.

    (L to R) Anthony Clark, River Phoenix, Mitchell Whitfield and Richard Panebianco in DOGFIGHT. Courtesy of Criterion Collection.

    Rose’s character in the original screenplay was underdeveloped, but Taylor, Savoca, and her crew added dimension during filming. She’s a gentle soul in contrast to Birdlace’s bluster. There’s an intelligence to her and yet an optimistic naivete, as well.

    She tells her date, “I wanna have an effect on the world,” dreams of singing folk music on stage, and perhaps one day joining the new Peace Corps. Taylor skillfully portrays her with an eager awkwardness. The relationship that grows between Rose and Birdlace is sweet in its clumsiness.

    The storytelling contrasts Birdlace and Rose’s quiet evening together with the raucous night shared among the other 4Bs (including a cameo from a young Brendan Fraser as an aggressive sailor). There’s a deceptive simplicity to Dogfight, even as it includes underlying themes of toxic masculinity and the brutality of war, and as the two main characters search for themselves within and without the gender norms of the day.

    Savoca and her talented crew pull the audience into the period setting through the locations used and the songs from the era that pepper the film. This being one of Phoenix’s limited screen performances before his early death adds another layer of emotion to the work and makes it that more memorable and wondrous. How lucky we are to have Dogfight as part of his legacy.

    Lili Taylor and River Phoenix in DOGFIGHT. Courtesy of Criterion Collection.

    The recent Blu-Ray release from Criterion Collection includes:

    • director-supervised 2K digital restoration
    • an audio commentary track with Savoca and producer Richard Guay (recorded for a previous release)
    • a 2024 interview of Savoca and Taylor by director Mary Harron. The women talk about Bob Comfort’s original screenplay and the necessary changes it meant for Rose’s character, the trickiness of casting women for the central “dogfight,” the different ending the studio wanted and Phoenix and Savoca’s refusal to shoot it. Taylor talks about how she chooses and creates characters, and her charting of scripts is discussed. Harron comments that the reason the film remains so fresh is the painful, raw, realness at its core.
    • Various crew members from Dogfight participate in a 2024 interview called The Craft of Dogfight. Participants vary from the production designer to the DP to the music supervisor. They all speak with nothing but praise for Savoca, the actors, and that specific filmmaking experience.

  • THE STRANGERS: CHAPTER ONE – Middling Horror in Search of a Point

    THE STRANGERS: CHAPTER ONE – Middling Horror in Search of a Point

    Horror fans are in no way above watching the same repeated tropes and scenarios in movie after movie. Hell, we luxuriate in it, taking care to note the rhythms of every sequel and remake we see, not just so we can spot what’s original in these retellings, but so we can follow along like the demented devotees we are.

    What I’m getting at here is that there’s nothing wrong with rebooting The Strangers movies, even if it has only been less than two decades since Bryan Bertino’s nightmarish debut feature presented its chilling tale of home invasion and anonymous violence. The Strangers: Prey at Night proved how malleable the concept could be, how much fun we could still have with the idea of these three masked figures and their stop-at-nothing approach to mayhem, and the promise that director Renny Harlin and writers Alan R. Cohen and Alan Freedland are after something bigger with a planned trilogy only adds to the intrigue. So what if the basic conceptual hook is the same across two movies? We love a horror remake, so bring it on!

    Sadly, while horror fans might come to The Strangers: Chapter 1 with open-minded enthusiasm, the film they’ll find waiting for them is too staid and paint-by-numbers to really create a spark. A tame remake at its best and a timid facsimile at worst, it loses the bite of the earlier films in the franchise, and leaves us hoping that Chapter 2 will deliver something bigger and better.

    You know the basic setup if you’ve seen The Strangers. This time around the couple is Maya (Madelaine Petsch) and Ryan (Froy Gutierrez), a lovely and lovable pair who are traveling to the Pacific Northwest to start a new life thanks to Maya’s growing career. Along the way, their car breaks down in a standoffish little town in Oregon, leaving them with no choice but to spend the night in a quaint little rental home in the middle of nowhere. The couple sets in for the night, and then there’s a knock on the door, a request to speak to someone who isn’t there. This strange encounter soon blooms into a night of violence, and Maya and Ryan have to fight for their lives as three masked strangers try to inflict maximum terror and pain on the couple.

    What we’re working with here is, as the trailers for the film have made plain, basically a remake of Bertino’s 2008 film starring Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman, with a few key differences. There’s still tension between the couple, but it’s for different reasons, and the house they’re trapped in is a completely alien space to them, as is the surrounding town. Beyond that, though, we’re basically looking at a reboot that retraces Bertino’s steps via Harlin’s steadfast direction.

    Harlin’s a pro, even when his films don’t turn out great, so it’s not at all surprising that Chapter 1 is at least a competent movie, most of the time. Petsch and Gutierrez do their best to commit fully to the premise, and they mostly succeed, while Harlin’s pacing and camerawork are, if not revelatory, then at least in focus, decently timed, and interesting. There are no grave sins against filmmaking here, which only makes it more frustrating when the film goes on and you start to realize there’s not much of anything here.

    To its credit, The Strangers: Chapter 1 is at least trying to do something other than a rote recreation of what Bertino and company already did so well, and when it’s really reaching for something new, there are glimmers of promise. The setpieces that don’t borrow too heavily from the original film (and there are setpieces here that flat-out copy entire shots from Bertino’s movie) are interesting and often fun to watch, and more importantly there’s an effort to lay out connective tissue that will eventually form parts of a larger story. When the film’s doing that, dialing up the paranoia of Maya and Ryan as they deal with standoffish locals, it’s interesting and even promising. But the film is so focused on trying to remind you why you like The Strangers in the first place that it’s often little more than a semi-convincing copy. 

    All of this means that Chapter 1 in this ambitious new Strangers saga doesn’t amount to much, but it does at least lay the groundwork for more stories. Horror fans will show up for familiar tropes, after all, which means we’re also always happy to see if a sequel does better than its predecessors. Maybe when Chapter 2 arrives, this will all feel worth it.

    The Strangers: Chapter 1 is in theaters May 17.



    Monkey Man is the directorial debut of Dev Patel. He plays an anonymous young man who spends his nights fighting in a ring with a monkey mask. It’s a living, but mostly he’s enacting a brutal and violent vengeance on corruption. It’s personal and systemic. While this brand of corruption preys palpably on the poor and powerless, these condemned souls murdered the protagonist’s mother, and he heals in a way only cinema can offer: exacting bloody, gruesome and satisfying vengeance. 

    With a premise like this, it’s no surprise Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions bought the film from Netflix and arranged its theatrical release through his deal with Blumhouse and Universal. In short, Peele saved the film from drowning in a sea of Netflix originals, or, even worse, getting shelved. Initially intended for the Indian market, Netflix scratched that plan after screening the finished film and finding it “too gritty”, per Deadline. Then, the film’s co-financier, Bron Studios, filed for bankruptcy, leaving Monkey Man without an avenue of release until Peele reached out with a lifeline straight to the big screen. 

    Patel, who not only directed and co-wrote the film but also plays the protagonist, Kid, has been outspoken on the difficult production. “I broke my hand in the first big action scene, broke some toes, tore a shoulder, eye infections, bruises,” he told Variety earlier this year; and, it’s all on the screen. He really does look like he’s constantly getting his ass kicked. Patel, and his crew, have done a fantastic job making this movie look as gritty, dirty, and in your face as possible. 

    There is something about a first-time director. Their passion and love of filmmaking reaches out from the screen and embraces the viewer. That feeling is fully present here in Monkey Man. April 5th was unique in the cinematic release calendar in that two exciting films by first time directors were released, the aforementioned Monkey Man and The First Omen. A new generation of bold filmmakers is emerging just in time to fill the void left by the once exciting high concept superhero genre. Oddly enough, the posters are eerily similar. 

    There is so much personality in Patel’s film. Not just in the culture that is captured on screen or the history of these characters, but also in the shaky cam, which requires investment from the audience. We experience the chaos of Kid’s environment as well as the juxtaposing serenity that comes when punishing perpetrators. The camera then smooths out, offering the kind of flowing camerawork we’ve come to expect after 4 John Wick films. We’re close to the action constantly. We paid the price of admission for vengeance and Patel ensures we emotionally and viscerally pay for it with every bone-crunching sound effect. 

    At its core, Monkey Man is an underdog story. Someone lost their mother when they were a kid and has experienced a lot of hardship ever since. Patel is refreshingly heavy handed in his storytelling. His protagonist is pointedly called Kid further emphasizing that life, growth, ended the moment his mother was murdered. He’s literally fighting for the opportunity to live again. 

    Progress is pain for Kid. He earns money by fighting in the ring and losing intentionally, which permits him to slowly climb the ranks of the criminal underworld he knows is responsible for the death of his mother. One of the many magic tricks of the film is how quickly the audience empathizes with Kid. Patel does not only excel behind the camera, but in front of it as well. He is marvelous here; he’s been terrific in so many movies. But never so magnetic as in this film. 

    The drama delivers as much of a punch as the action. Past is present is prologue, and the tension of it all plays out within Patel’s eyes. Bruce Lee, Cowboy Bebop, John Wick, all influence Monkey Man. The hero sustains injuries and has to be resuscitated or brought back to life by a group of people who rejuvenate body and spirit, helping our hero find their way. 

    Good villains are menacing. The best feels impenetrable, and an impenetrable force is what Kid faces here. The villains were so powerful, they even scared off Netflix, which was nervous to release a film addressing political and systemic violence in India. Good thing, too. I’m tired of streaming films meant for the big screen. As much as I enjoy the Extraction films, Chris Hemsworth belongs in a movie theater, watched with a bucket of popcorn and a 24 oz Coke. By saving Monkey Man from the depths of streaming, cinephiles get to experience it as intended and the film gets the awareness, the red carpet, pomp and circumstance it deserves. 

    Dev Patel pulled off a cinematic miracle here. His first feature is full of incredible fight sequences with realistic bloody effects. Crowded, suffocating arenas, car chases, shootouts. Kid goes through the ringer as do his silent passengers along for the ride. All with a budget of $10 million. It’s a remarkable feat.

    Eager to be Please Friday Night Reaction: B-

    Cinephile Review: B+

    Critical Response: A

  • CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (1972): The Revolt of the Cin-APES – Roundtable Reviews [Two Cents]

    CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (1972): The Revolt of the Cin-APES – Roundtable Reviews [Two Cents]
    20th Century Studios

    Two Cents is a Cinapse original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team curates the series and contribute their “two cents” using a maximum of 200-400 words. Guest contributors and comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future picks. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion. Would you like to be a guest contributor or programmer for an upcoming Two Cents entry? Simply watch along with us and/or send your pitches or 200-400 word reviews to [email protected].

    The Pick: Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes (1972)

    Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, the 10th film in the Apes franchise, is upon us. (And it is glorious, in my estimation). Our team curated a selection of titles from one of cinema’s greatest and most enduring franchises that we most wanted to discuss! We’ve gone full CinApes (and they told us never to go full CinApes). Join us for our Revisit of the Planet of the Apes! We’re excited to discuss these titles together thanks to the Two Cents movie club format.

    Featured Guests

    Chris Barreras

    What do you do when your previous installment kills off your two main characters? In the case of 1972’s Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, you do a time jump and recast your lead as the son of the previous lead. Not many franchises make it to a fourth film and often by the time they hit a fourth film, it’s a wash, rinse and repeat scenario. But what director J. Lee Thompson and writer Paul Dehn accomplish is set the franchise on the path to destruction, where apes will eventually rule and take over the earth. It all comes together for, in my opinion, the second best film of the original five next to the iconic original.

    Using the tease from the end of Escape where the ape child of Cornelius and Zira is secretly swapped and left in the care of Ricardo Montalban’s sweetheart Armando. Roddy McDowall is allowed to play a different side of the character he’s been playing for 3 previous films this time as his Caesar is curious but scared of humans and when the time comes, he’s able to use years of physical torment under layers of prosthetics to turn in a commanding, rage-filled performance. Limited by the mask makeup, he uses his eyes, his voice and physicality to show how Caesar will be the ape to lead household pets/slaves into a full bloody and violent revolt. The humans lead by Don Murray’s Governor Beck (a conniving weasel of a villain) and sympathetic MacDonald played by Hari Rhodes don’t really stand a chance once the eventual third act coup takes place.

    J. Lee Thompson does what he can with the time and limited budget (even for the time it’s lower than the previous film) and maximizes the uses of the smaller location settings, which unfortunately leads to a sense of deja vu when on set. But once the action sets in, it’s a brutal and violent display of Apes against humans that has only been teased in the previous films. Taking the franchise in a much darker and violent path where the previous film was almost a fish out of water comedy till the shocking climax, this one has violence throughout. The interrogation scenes, the torture of the apes, all of it are on full display. So when Caesar decides it is time for the Apes to rise, you are on the edge of your seat and personally siding with Caesar as the film has done a commanding job of painting the humans as the animals, while the Apes are indeed more human than we ever realized.

    Chris Barreras is the Co-Host of Imperial Scum: A Star Wars podcast, follow on social media @Gingerdome81

    20th Century Studios

    Nathan Flynn

    Much has been said critically about the 1968 original Planet of the Apes film, which essentially birthed the sci-fi blockbuster franchise. However, the dirty little secret few critics dare mention at parties is that the fourth film in the original franchise, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, is just as good, if not better, than the first film—especially its unrated cut, which stands as a bold and unrelenting masterpiece of 1970s sci-fi cinema. Directed by J. Lee Thompson (known for Cape Fear, Guns of the Navarone, and Death Wish 4: The Crackdown), the film plunges audiences into a dystopian 1991 where apes serve as an enslaved working class, echoing the darkest realms of societal oppression. The film follows Caesar (Roddy McDowall), the offspring of the previous film’s protagonists, as he experiences the worst of humanity’s oppression, leading a visceral revolt against human tyranny. This culminates in gripping monkey shoot-outs against armed cops in riot gear amidst the backdrop of an isolated University of California, Irvine campus (seen most recently in Greta Gerwig’s Barbie).

    Thompson’s direction infuses the film with a raw intensity that feels like if John Carpenter made a dystopian remake of Spartacus, with apes. Though its unflinching bloody portrayal of a society teetering on the brink of collapse might seem like a cheap exercise in bloody violence, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes delivers a searing commentary on the cyclical nature of human violence, with imagery that resonates eerily with real-world parallels.

    The film’s political messages are delivered with fiery precision, confronting themes of race and police brutality head-on, with a relevance that reverberates powerfully even in today’s world. As Caesar leads his fellow apes in a struggle for freedom, the film forces audiences to confront uncomfortable truths about the nature of power, oppression, and revolution. In its unapologetic exploration of these themes, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes transcends its genre trappings to emerge as a cinematic hand grenade that remains as relevant and impactful today as it was upon its initial release.

    Nathan Flynn, a comedian and film critic, known for his contributions to One of Us.Net and hosting the podcast Mission: Impodible, can be found on X: @nathanflynn, with more links available at linktr.ee/nathanisdapper.

    20th Century Studios

    The Team

    Ed Travis

    “First pampered as pets, then abused as servants, now oppressed as slaves.”

    This is a studio-funded tentpole blockbuster that is about a brutal slave revolt against an oppressive system of control. 

    It will forever be among my favorite entries in a deeply beloved franchise for that very reason. What a world, in which a wild, creative, occasionally ridiculous studio sci-fi franchise found the space in which to stage a bloody revolt that blatantly calls into question our own unequal society and depicts the torching and burning of that system for audiences to cheer on!

    I will admit that without any forethought I chose to revisit the “unrated” version of Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes and without doing any real reading or research, had forgotten that its ending diverges wildly from the theatrical version. I’ve since revisited the original ending and let the implications of the different versions wash over me. But let me take some time to note that the unrated version of Conquest features a vengeful and self-righteous Caesar encourage his army to murder their masters and offers a speech of decisive cruelty and lack of mercy. We see Caesar become the despot, the king. “We shall found our own armies, our own religion, our own dynasty. And that day is upon you now!” It’s as bleak an ending as they come, showing us a protagonist who, after having his parents murdered in the last installment and being raised by a compassionate human in hiding, becomes ensnared in a slave system and chooses violence and oppression to stamp out the injustices done to him and his kind. It really couldn’t be a more hardcore storyline for a major mainstream sci-fi franchise. 

    The theatrical ending still features the uprising but instead Caesar’s mate utters her first word, “No”, when the throngs are wanting to kill their oppressor. The species sort of takes one step further in evolution right then and there, and Caesar chooses mercy, and offers a very different speech: “Now we will put away our hatred. Now we will put down our weapons… we who are not human can afford to be humane… so cast out your vengeance, for tonight, we have seen the birth of the planet of the apes!”

    It’s clear that the more compassionate ending is the canon ending, as Battle for the Planet of the Apes takes place entirely in a future beyond Conquest where Caesar is attempting to rule over a society that integrates humans. But hot damn, that unrated ending is one of the gutsiest and most bleak endings in a series where the last entry ended in the on screen murders of our protagonists and a baby chimp (Cornelius and Zera, Caesar’s time-traveling parents from the films’ earlier entries), and the entry before that ended with the literal nuclear destruction of the entire planet. I love the cinema of the 1970s.

    (@Ed_Travis on X)
    20th Century Studios

    Julian Singleton

    Mainlining the Apes series over the last week has really illuminated how provocative this franchise tries to get with each new installment. With Conquest, however, the humanity/civil rights angle reaches its most literal manifestation, with more than a few shortcomings as a result. 

    Past Apes films manage to evoke such a sprawling wonder and horror out of less-than-stellar resources. The last film, Escape, cannily used a modern-day setting and a sharp focus on Cornelius and Zira’s acclimation to life in the past to pull off a challenging, high-stakes, and emotional “kill baby Hitler” style story. With Conquest, we’re thrust 20 years later into a world where Apes have leapt forward in evolution with little explanation and equally little filled in about young Caesar’s (Roddy McDowall) circus life with Armando (an always-game Ricardo Montalban). Here, we have a world where all pets have died while apes lived–while they initially took those critters’ affectionate domestic place, hatred for the possible future foretold by Cornelius and Zira quickly caused humanity to pivot apes into slavery. While this is an intriguing idea, one can’t help but feel like the film takes place within one city block, unwilling to explore the ramifications  and justifications of its premise beyond the scope it’s set up for itself. While the film’s last act fulfills the Conquest of the title with thrilling immediacy, it feels like so much of Conquest spins its wheels haphazardly implementing 20 years’ worth of lore, discarding all sorts of equally intriguing possibilities along the way.

    What made Beneath and Escape so thrilling for me in relation to the OG Planet was how both films took place in such short succession after one another. There wasn’t enough structural room to doubt its premises, and they all felt like natural continuations of the central story while pushing themes of humanity, depersonalization, and temporal cause/effect into intriguing places. With such a jump in time, Conquest revealed the fraying edges of what ideas were left to pursue in the Apes franchise.

    That said, the final act is pretty bonkers, and I’m glad I went with the advice to watch the extended unrated cut. With everything that’s been set up in this bizarre world–and how unapologetically bleak these films have gotten–there’s no room for the mercy studio execs felt compelled to show in Conquest’s original theatrical form. It’s a film about Caesar’s understandable radicalization to save his species from humans. As such, McDowall’s visceral performance wonderfully charts a journey that would’ve seemed horrifying to his original Cornelius in Planet and Escape; that in order to conquer and liberate, Caesar must become as dispassionate and cruel as his own captors.

    (@gambit1138 on X)
    20th Century Studios

    Austin Vashaw

    Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is a strange one in the franchise. Taken on its own, it’s quite fascinating, but it’s a bizarre outlier in the overall narrative, taking place just a couple decades after Escape but with what feels like (and should have been) centuries’ worth of development in between: apes, though not yet speaking, are now far more intelligent, and enslaved by humans; walking upright, wearing clothing, carrying out complex tasks, and even reading basic instructions in the service of their human masters.

    Even with the explanation of a major plague changing the world, this sounds like a nonsensical timeline. But getting past that, this is a film with a lot to offer, a much darker entry with a revolutionary theme. Budgetary constraints may have actually helped in some respects: the brutalist architecture and lack of locational variety give it a surreal, nightmarish, post-apocalyptic flavor, especially during Caesar’s rebellion. Unlike his parents Zira and Cornelius, Caesar (still voiced by Cornelius’s Roddy McDowall) is generally untrusting of and indisposed to humans with few exceptions, especially after seeing their cruelty firsthand.

    In 1972, action and exploitation films, and in particular the blaxploitation genre, were reaching a fever pitch with new attitudes and incendiary and violent imagery. It seems like some of the energy in the zeitgeist rubbed off on this tale, which depicts an uprising of apes facing off against armed riot officers. This direction makes sense given the franchise’s obvious critiques of racism and systemic brutality, as well as having action extraordinaire J. Lee Thompson in the director’s chair. I watched the unrated cut, which surprised me with some bloody violence including an ape being shot in the face, and I kind forgot how bleak the ending is (softened as it is by the more harmoniously-minded followup Battle which pumped the brakes a bit and portrayed a calmer Caesar who surrounds himself with kind-hearted advisors and demonstrates a willingness to live and work with humankind for their mutual benefit).

    (@VforVashaw on X)

    Upcoming Picks: CinAPES, aka Revisit Of The Planet Of The Apes

    Planet Of The Apes (2001)

    Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes

    And We’re Out.

  • ‘KINGDOM’ Proves the PLANET OF THE APES Saga Has Lost None of its Vitality

    ‘KINGDOM’ Proves the PLANET OF THE APES Saga Has Lost None of its Vitality

    A pun-free review of the newest film in the long-running franchise

    Photo courtesy of and © 20th Century Studios.

    With the “Caesar Trilogy” concluded, I had assumed that the rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise had run its course. It was a surprise that snuck up on me to learn that a new film, directed by Wes Ball, was set to drop.

    For more than half a century, the long-running franchise has proven its legs: a rare series with tremendously consistent quality despite having great variety, uniqueness, and sometimes considerable budgetary constraints among its many entries (even the oft-maligned Tim Burton remake has its charms, which we’ll discuss in our upcoming Two Cents Film Club revisit).

    Taking place some generations after the Caesar arc, the new Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes takes us further from contemporary reality and further into a world becoming like that of the 1968 original film, with humanity in decline and most having devolved to a more animalistic state, having lost the power of speech.

    Photo courtesy of and © 20th Century Studios.

    This is a world being reclaimed by nature, and if you know director Wes Ball, that’s been his calling card from the start. His 2011 post-apocalyptic short film Ruin, set in a crumbling urban sprawl being overtaken with green vegetation, caught the attention of Fox and put him in the director’s seat for the Maze Runner films which had a similar aesthetic.

    Chimpanzee Noa is a member of a peaceful tribe of intelligent apes who occupy a small village, and the son and heir of its chief. When his village is raided and abducted by another warlike tribe of aggressor apes, Noa must journey to find and rescue them.

    On his journey he encounters new companions – Raka, an orangutan who is reverent to the memory of Caesar, and a human girl whom the pair dub “Nova” (a callback to the original films).

    Photo courtesy of and © 20th Century Studios.

    As the trio journey and learn more about each other, they learn that the apes who attacked the village are part of a growing empire attempting to unite ape-kind by force (not at all unlike human empires), and lorded by a cruel and vengeful king, Proximus Caesar.

    Proximus keeps among his advisors a simpering William H. Macy as an intelligent, literate human who remains a keeper of the knowledge of humanity’s civilized and technological past – a past which Proximus hopes to take possession of to further advance his kingdom.

    Photo courtesy of and © 20th Century Studios.

    The tale becomes a race to the MacGuffin as Noa and his companions work to beat Proximus and his army to the secrets held in an impenetrable human vault.

    Kingdom maintains the social conscience that’s inherent to the entire series, but has the distinction of being, in my opinion, the most action-packed entry. Many action setpieces pepper the film, including treacherous climbs, numerous battle sequences, chases on horseback, ambushes, and even a flood, but the tale still maintains the beating heart of the franchise, using ape characters to champion the better elements of humanity like trust, understanding, and compassion – over brutality, cruelty, and xenophobia.

    Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is one of the best films in a franchise that I love, and I think an improvement over the last couple of films (which I really like!).

    Having proven himself as a capable director, I hope director Wes Ball will get the opportunity to tell stories outside of this particular arena and become, like George Miller, more than just “the post-apocalyptic guy”, but for now I’m glad he’s flexing his muscles for this spectacular adventure on the Planet of the Apes.

  • PLANET OF THE APES (1968): CinAPES is a Madhouse – Roundtable Reviews [Two Cents]

    PLANET OF THE APES (1968): CinAPES is a Madhouse – Roundtable Reviews [Two Cents]
    20th Century Studios

    Two Cents is a Cinapse original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team curates the series and contribute their “two cents” using a maximum of 200-400 words. Guest contributors and comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future picks. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion. Would you like to be a guest contributor or programmer for an upcoming Two Cents entry? Simply watch along with us and/or send your pitches or 200-400 word reviews to [email protected].

    The Pick: Planet Of The Apes (1968)

    With Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes launching in May of 2024, our team curated a selection of titles from one of cinema’s greatest and most enduring franchises that we most wanted to discuss! We’ve gone full CinApes (and they told us never to go full CinApes). Join us for our Revisit of the Planet of the Apes! We’re excited to discuss these titles together thanks to the Two Cents movie club format.

    The Team

    Ed Travis

    I don’t really remember a time when the Planet of the Apes films weren’t a part of my life. I don’t vividly remember when or how I experienced the original 5 film series, but I believe my Dad and I watched them together after renting them from our local video store when I was still quite young. Regardless, the series is simply one of my very favorite franchises and it all began with 1968’s Franklin J. Schaffner directed, Rod Serling and Michael Wilson scripted Planet of the Apes. And you know what? Every damn element that makes this series great is there immediately in the very first film. It’s probably best known for that incredible twist ending, which is perhaps the most spoiled twist ending in all of history by this point. But well before that masterful ending you had powerful science fiction tropes so abundant it seems almost impossible they could all be in the same movie. There’s space ships and time travel, there’s religion and philosophy, there’s an undercurrent of racial and generational strife, there’s groundbreaking special effects work, and a phenomenal cast. It’s lightning in a bottle that combines a rollicking sci-fi action/adventure blockbuster mixed with the richest (and most pessimistic) cultural commentary imaginable for a major studio tentpole.

    A few specific thoughts include how patient and methodical the opening sequences are. We really odyssey with our lost astronauts for quite a while before they become ensnared and enslaved by the titular apes.

    And immediately upon being enslaved (or, in the case of Taylor’s (Charlton Heston) companions, stuffed and lobotomized), we’re introduced to one of cinema’s all-time great antagonists: Dr. Zaius. Our Apes, evolved as they may be, suffer many of the same shortcomings as we modern day humans do, and there’s a palpable tension between the scientific question askers (Zera and Cornelius), and Zaius, the keeper of their laws and religion. The dynamic of heroic scientists embracing Taylor and simply seeking the truth, versus the establishment bastard ready and willing to suppress the truth to maintain the status quo will forever be salient and lifts this entry to the top of the franchise for me. I root so hard for Taylor, Zera, and Cornelius (and even Nova) because the film isn’t afraid to root for the underdog and question power structures. It’s a bold studio film unafraid to use groundbreaking imagery and wild world building to call into question our own societal shortcomings. Zaius is cold, oppressive, and full of fear. But he’s also undoubtedly brilliant and cunning. He’s a fantastic foil to our heroes and emblematic of so many of the issues I personally take with any authority figure who makes it their mission to stamp out truth in favor of safety.

    Also hot damn that make up and production design and score… just the aesthetic vision here was such a huge swing and risk and I adore that the risk everyone involved took was rewarded by an audience who has supported this series to TEN entries over 50+ years. It’s a madhouse, and I’ll willingly commit myself to it no matter how many times the studio finances another one of these things, so long as they forever infuse them with powerful societal commentary that’s often as bleak as it comes.

    (@Ed_Travis on X)
    20th Century Studios

    Julian Singleton

    This film, the Burton remake, and the more modern Caesar trilogy form my cultural knowledge for all things Ape Planet-related, and admittedly, the last time I saw this OG 1968 version was when I was 11 and far too young to really grasp what Schaffner, Wilson, and Serling were really going for. While its cinematic cousin 2001: A Space Odyssey celebrates the limitless potential of the human race in spite of its self-destructive flaws, Planet of the Apes boldly literalizes anxieties towards racism, technological upheaval, and an invasion of religious belief or denial into the secular worlds of politics and science to create a broad-minded yet wholly devastating cautionary tale. 

    What I loved so much in this viewing was just how patient this film was. For the first third of the film, it’s just three astronauts exploring a desolate landscape, positioning the audience for a meditative survival drama. With the arrival of the amazing-looking Apes, we’re thrust into a dystopian courtroom drama where Ben-Hur must fight to affirm his sense of personhood in a world whose survival depends on seeing him as anything but sentient or feeling. There’s tons of moments ripe for comedy amid such existential crises–specifically the centerpiece tribunal where Schaffner cheekily turns his panel into a “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” tableau. 

    For as much as this series pivots its focus into Ape-on-horseback action shenanigans, what lingers after this viewing is just how much it focuses on the moral incentives behind active denial. It makes for what must have been a chilling parallel to the belief backflips of those skeptical of the Civil Rights Movement or Vietnam protests back in 1968–and it certainly feels all too resonant today as students and faculty on College campuses fight to affirm the rights and safety for citizens in Gaza against those seemingly dead-set on turning a blind eye to their suffering. No matter the era we revisit it in, Planet of the Apes’ cracked lens on a world gone mad never seems to lose its cynical counter-cultural edge. 

    (@gambit1138 on X)
    20th Century Studios

    Justin Harlan

    I know I’ve seen this classic film before, but I expect it’s been so long that it makes sense that I remembered little to none of the main beats. While I know there are tons of things I could say about the film, its influence, and its long-standing imprint on pop culture, I have two main points that I wish to spend my brief entry on today.

    First, the film itself is surely an entertaining one and one that was cutting edge for its time in its style and execution. Notably, I genuinely love the costuming and effects. The humanoid ape creatures are so wonderfully designed. Their look is so unique and well crafted that they honestly make so many modern films look like garbage. Modern film, notably the sci-fi genre unto which this film belongs, relies so heavily on computer generated visuals that practical effects and costuming are sometimes a seemingly lost art. This film has such a great look and feel due in large part to the effects of a bygone era. I simply love the way this film feels and I attribute that to both an affinity for late 60s and 70s genre film and the fantastic costuming/effects of this 1968 gem.

    Second, I love the commentary this film is making, beginning with the statement that Heston’s George Taylor concludes his opening monologue with:

    “Tell me, though. Does man, that marvel of the universe, that glorious paradox who sent me to the stars, still make war against his brother? Keep his neighbor’s children starving?”

    The entire film is a commentary on humanity. It forces humanity to look at itself in a mirror. It’s heavy handed at times, but this era is defined by such heavy handedness so that’s not a deterrent – in fact, as I am a big fan of this era’s genre film, I probably consider that a feature. It’s not lost on me that Heston himself became the very type of human that several of his earlier sci-fi films seemed to be warning against – but alas, that doesn’t take away from the power of the messaging in the film itself.

    As a novice to this series, I’m excited to try to monkey around with the team each week in this month of CinAPES… and I hope to eventually dig into all of the films in the series, beyond just the four we’re highlighting. So, thanks to our personal lead ape, Ed, for pushing me to watch these films… so for it’s been as fun a a barrel of monkeys.

    (@thepaintedman on X)
    20th Century Studios

    Austin Vashaw

    For a film that feels really familiar and beloved, I’ve only really seen Planet of the Apes a couple of times. I’m rewatching the entire original series and one of the wildest things about these films is that most of them were Rated G despite having some nudity, violence, and rough language, not to mention overall themes of oppression. Pretty wild, as I think these same films would probably merit PG-13s if submitted today.

    One of the things that I’d kind of forgotten is that Charlton Heston’s Taylor starts out as a very strong personality, ribbing and even bullying his astronaut compatriots. He’s not necessarily a jerk, but certainly someone accustomed to having a natural sense of authority, if not a smug superiority. Which makes it all the more of a shakeup to suddenly find himself at the bottom of the evolutionary chain in a society that has no use or respect for him.

    As a kid I knew the film for its more adventurous, science fiction aspects, and grasped only its most basic allegory of racial prejudice. It’s hard for me to fully understand the context of the film’s 1968 creation, but as an adult I can appreciate that there’s a lot more under the surface here, touching on that zeitgeist. Most notably a not-at-all subtle indictment of religious mania and fascism embraced by Dr. Zaius, a character who’s both the Minister of Science and defender of the faith – and far more interested in control of information than serving any objective truth.

    What a terrific film, and imbued with terrific effects and a strong social conscience, both of which would become the hallmarks of a still-ongoing franchise.

    Anyway, closing with a true story: On this viewing, while I was watching this my kids came home, pretty close to the beginning of the movie but without seeing any context, menus, or explanation beyond knowing Taylor was an astronaut who had crash-landed on an unknown planet. There’s a scene where the humans are suddenly spooked right before the apes show up, and I asked them to guess what the aliens would be like. Silas (7), trying to be funny: “HUNKY MONKEYS!”

    (@VforVashaw on X)

    Upcoming Picks: CinAPES, aka Revisit Of The Planet Of The Apes

    Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes

    Planet Of The Apes (2001)

    Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes

    And We’re Out.

  • EVIL DOES NOT EXIST: Silence Speaks Volumes in a Chilling Reflection on Human Nature

    EVIL DOES NOT EXIST: Silence Speaks Volumes in a Chilling Reflection on Human Nature

    Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s follow-up to Drive My Car is a tense meditation on environmental devastation

    Stills courtesy of Sideshow & Janus Films.

    Takumi (Hitoshi Omika) is a woodcutter and local odd-jobs man who lives with his young daughter Hana (Ryo Nishikawa) in a village tucked away in the Japanese mountains. The villagers prize their seclusion and untouched natural resources–all of which become prime selling points for a Tokyo talent agency seeking to establish a tourist “glamping” site so they can take advantage of diminishing pandemic subsidies. When it’s clear just how much construction will pollute the village–and how ignorant the talent agency is to these effects–the tension between the villagers and these urban intruders threatens to reach a breaking point.

    Originally conceived and shot as a dialogue-free short film, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning Drive My Car treasures the ambiguous space between words and action. Early on, these silences allow viewers to carefully immerse themselves in the echoing quiet of the mountainous countryside–until the blaring of villagers’ chainsaws shatters the illusion. In a tense first meeting between villagers and hapless company reps (Ryuji Kosaka and Ayaka Shibutani), the blunt honesty of the citizens’ questions resoundingly clashes with the reps’ polite yet bumbling half-truths. In moments of stillness, there’s the capacity for sudden outbursts of connection or violence. But that disturbing quiet–between a singular action and endless reactionary possibilities–is where Hamaguchi mines the complexity of this moving and beguiling film. It exemplifies humans’ endless choices regarding our lasting impact on the environment, and how each decision, no matter how small, leaves an impression that resounds far beyond it.

    Much like his earlier films like Drive My Car and Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, Hamaguchi eschews bombastic dramatic turns or brazen sentimentality in favor of giving his characters a stoic, meticulously-constructed reservation that can’t help but erode over time. In the context of Evil Does Not Exist, there isn’t an erosion of communication between urban corporate stooges and well-intentioned rural villagers; rather, Hamaguchi carefully fosters an inevitable, chaotic eruption that breaks through the fragile social niceties that bind them from just slaughtering one another. Neither capitalist nor conservationist seems capable of or interested in changing from their long-held natures–instead, Hamaguchi knows that Nature itself will force something to give. 

    The exquisite cinematography by Yoshio Kitagawa and mournful score by Eiko Ishibashi finds its home nestled in between barren trees ready to bud and driven snow pockmarked with animal tracks or footsteps: an environment that, despite its desolation, is always changing, evolving, adapting. The only thing that can’t are the seemingly wholly evolved creatures that call it home. Instead, humans remain on a tenuous scale of awareness regarding how much they eat away at their environment. While the villagers have prized a “take what one needs” mentality in direct contrast to the city-dwellers who want to profit first and ask questions later, there’s no denying all of them make a registrable negative mark on their environment–defined by whatever they take for their survival.  While Takumi is methodical in his conservation, that act is still defined by its gradual yet present act of consumption. On the opposite side, these seemingly soulless corporate reps do have their human qualities. They want to feel fulfillment beyond their jobs, whether that’s living in nature or finding love on a dating app. While they recognize how much they take from the world, that instinct competes with their drive to give something of themselves elsewhere. Hamaguchi’s silences remove anything that might distract from the ways that humans are constantly consuming in this film–eating, smoking, shooting, chainsawing, what have you. There’s no room for delusion or self-rationalization, as reflected by the film’s wry title. Given such time and presence to reflect on this habitual self-destruction, there’s an earnest hope that such a break can give as an opportunity for our less-cancerous better angels to give back and adapt to Nature rather than force our environment’s contributions to be so perilously one-sided.

    Some of Evil’s most beautiful moments exist in this moment of awareness–specifically in a moving scene where Takumi has the returning corporate reps help him gather water from the very spring their camp would pollute. While the end of the scene reveals one rep’s altruism to be wholly performative, Hamaguchi majorly focuses on how the other rep falls into a contemplative rhythm shared by woodsman Takumi. It’s a moment of respite from the brightly doleful unease Hamaguchi’s fostered until then, brimming with the hope of a possible new harmony between taker and giver. As mentioned, however, the moment is fleeting–as the recurring echoing gunshots break yet another silence full of potential. 

    While I am curious to see Hamaguchi’s film in its more truncated form (a short entitled Gift), Evil Does Not Exist feels so deliberate in its pacing and rhythm that to take away from its meditative stillness seems to risk evading the point behind such lengths of silence. By shifting its focus away from our ability to speak and act, Evil Does Not Exist removes humanity from the center of its own narrative. It forces us to reflect on and reconsider our actions before we enact further change–and determine whether we can extend such labels of good and evil beyond our own self-interest.

    Evil Does Not Exist is now playing in limited release from Sideshow and Janus Films.

  • THE CROW: Seminal 90s Classic Hits 4K [30th Anniversary]

    THE CROW: Seminal 90s Classic Hits 4K [30th Anniversary]
    Paramount Pictures


    Goth didn’t quite exist in my suburban town in 1994, when The Crow took 14 year old me by storm.

    If it had existed, I would have been pretty tempted to be a goth kid. This is evidenced by the fact that for Halloween, I went as The Crow not once, but twice. There’s only so many Halloweens one can experience on this earth, and there’s only so many characters or costumes you’d put on more than once. So what I’m trying to say is that The Crow is indelibly linked to my coming of age. And that can cut in a couple of different directions. 

    On the one hand, The Crow, for better or for worse, is simply a part of me. It’s a not insignificant piece of my identity that came at a crucial time of self discovery.

    On the other hand, art that spoke to you when you were 14 can sometimes be the most cringe worthy of all things upon adult reflection. 

    The Crow exists somewhere in the middle for me. Comic creator James O’Barr did spend almost a decade of his life creating the deeply personal work out of a place of mourning the loss of the young love of his life. And it’s a therapeutic work he created to emerge from his own trauma and depression. I will always respect that authenticity. And of course the film is this singular pre/early goth vision crafted by an incredible team of artists, and starring Brandon Lee, who tragically died on set after being shot by what was supposed to be a blank round. All of these things lend an air of grounding, realistic tragedy to this bleeding-heart, mythological tale. Yet it is so stylized and unsubtle, so music-video-like in its visuals, so wholly embracing of the teen angst aesthetic and comic book trappings, that it falls short of feeling like a true dramatic work.

    I revisit it surprisingly often as the years go on, and the advent of a new 4K UHD disc felt like the right time to once again “fire it up” and see where I land this time around.


    I sometimes take an earnest “fuck The Crow” stance. Without this film, perhaps Brandon Lee would still be with us, after all. I adore all of his other action cinema output, not to mention revere his father as well. The tragic loss of Brandon Lee haunts this film forever, and in the end I’d say The Crow just wasn’t worth it, overall, if one could somehow trade the life of Brandon Lee for the existence of this film. But that’s not how life works. And when I do revisit it, I see the meteoric star Brandon Lee giving the breakout performance of his life that forever (if tragically) cements him in legend. I see just another movie that was swinging for the fences and nailing an artistic vision that would be eternally aped and referenced from that point on. I see what attracted Brandon Lee to the project in the first place, and I respect and appreciate that we’ll always have this piece of grimy romantic revenge.

    Paramount Pictures

    The tragic tale of Eric (Lee) and Shelley (Sofia Shinas), meant to wed on Halloween night, but instead murdered by a marauding crew of gangsters on “Devil’s Night” in Detroit, is one inextricable from its music. Eric himself was the lead guitarist in a rock band and over the course of two nights (the next Devil’s Night after their passing), when the crow who led him to the land of the dead brings him back to set the wrongs of their deaths right via bloody revenge, Eric finds time to crush a few angry rooftop guitar solos. In the film itself a club is central to the goings on and several of the artists featured prominently in the (equally seminal) soundtrack perform on screen amidst all the gangster machinations of the crew that killed Eric and Shelley. O’Barr modeled many of his drawings off of 70s/80s icons like Iggy Pop and David Bowie. It’s a property and film forever linked to pop culture and the music that made it.

    Filmmaker Alex Proyas imbued The Crow with much of its stylistic sensibilities and he famously went even further down that gothic road later with 1998’s Dark City, which was perhaps the culmination of the vibe The Crow birthed. And beyond the music, Proyas infused the film with wonderful comic book iconography like our hero running across rooftops as he stalks his prey, taking swan dives off of buildings simply to bounce right up and dance off into the moonlight, and several cool-as-hell R-rated action sequences that hint at the martial arts and physical capabilities of Brandon Lee (even if films like Rapid Fire and Showdown In Little Tokyo do an even better job of that). 

    Paramount Pictures

    What hit me most upon this revisit is that perhaps The Crow simply reflects back at you whatever you project upon it. I’ve seen the film dozens of times and it’s not something that makes me cry. It’s tragic, but it doesn’t feel personal. Yet I’ve had a rough couple of months personally, and the empathy and kindness that the semi-orphaned teen Sarah (Rochelle Davis) displays, and the loyalty and humanity that Ernie Hudson’s sympathetic cop character Albrecht demonstrates, hit me this time around and I did find a tear or two running down my cheek. The iconography and score (Graeme Revell) just hit me like a time machine and made me feel at home in my teen angst. 

    Neither masterpiece nor cringe, The Crow lives eternal as a work of abject earnesty.

    The Package

    The visuals are The Crow. And while I am rarely the best person to assess what the “upgrade” really looks like from a technical or process point of view, I’d say the 4K UHD presentation looks pretty fantastic. It maintains grain while offering deep blacks (important for The Crow) and incredible sharpness. 

    You’ve also got 2 commentary tracks (my old Blu-ray only had Proyas, but I don’t believe the producer commentary featured here is “new” either), a great 30 minute interview with James O’Barr in his basement that has been on past releases but which I adore as a vulnerable and earnest insight into an artist. The most significant new entry here beyond the 4K restoration is the documentary “Shadows & Pain”, which is essentially an extended interview with production designer Alex McDowell. It’s a sturdy home video package, though it’s worth noting that you only get a single 4K UHD disc here, so no Blu-ray here. There are a couple of versions being released with identical scan and bonus features, but different packaging. This review is of the Steelbook edition.

    Paramount Pictures

    (From the press release)

    Shadows & Pain: Designing The Crow – NEW!
    Angels All Fire: Birth of the Legend
    On Hallowed Ground: The Outer Realm
    Twisted Wreckage: The Inside Spaces
    Sideshow Collectibles: An Interview with Edward R. Pressman – NEW TO DISC!
    Audio Commentary with Director Alex Proyas                                                      
    Audio Commentary by Producer Jeff Most and Screenwriter John Shirley      
    Behind the Scenes Featurette                                                        
    A Profile on James O’Barr                                                                                         
    Extended Scenes:                                                                                                          
    The Arcade Bombing                                                                                     
    The Funboy Fight                                                                                            
    The Shootout at Top Dollar’s                                                                        
    Deleted Footage Montage                                                                         

     The Crow hits 4K UHD Steelbook May 7th, 2024 from Paramount Pictures.      

    And I’m Out.

  • THE FALL GUY, Genre Mash-Up Delivers Sloppy Love Letter to Stunt Performers and the People Who Dig Them

    THE FALL GUY, Genre Mash-Up Delivers Sloppy Love Letter to Stunt Performers and the People Who Dig Them

    As of late, pressure has been steadily growing to add an all-important category to the yearly Academy Awards: Stunts and stunt choreography. Part of that push has come from The New Yorker’s entertainment site, Vulture, and its now annual stunts-related awards. Whether that push succeeds in convincing the Academy’s voting body to add a new category is anybody’s guess, but with the release of the David Leitch-directed The Fall Guy, a delightfully sloppy love letter to the semi-anonymous stunt performers who’ve brought kinetic, physical action to audiences since the dawn of film, the chances are better today than they were yesterday,

    Loosely based on the mostly forgotten ‘80s TV series created by uber-producer Glen A. Larson (Knight Rider, Magnum P.I., Battlestar Galactica), The Fall Guy centers on the aptly named Colt Seavers (Ryan Gosling, in magnetic movie-star mode), a professional stunt man and smug, self-entitled action-star Tom Ryder’s (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) preferred action double, and Jody Moreno (Emily Blunt), a camerawoman eager to move up the production ladder and direct a feature film of her own. They’re also more than co-workers. They’re romantic partners on the verge of taking their relationship from casual to serious, from undefined to exclusive.

    Career and romance fall headlong into the figurative and metaphorical ground when Colt, a stuntman through and through, trained to suppress emotion, feeling, and even physical pain, suffers a grievous injury on-set, leaving him bitter, frustrated, and incapable of sharing any part of his rehab with anyone, specifically Jody, who he not so promptly ghosts, leaving two unhappy people, an expensive movie shoot Down Under, and an earnest, star-driven rom-com plot that just might bring them back together. If only The Fall Guy’s over-convoluted central storyline would let them.

    Colt has work to do on himself, but that’s put on the back-burner when he receives an unexpected call from Gail Meyer (Hannah Waddingham), the executive producer behind Metalstorm, a big-budget space cowboy flick and Jody’s first film as director. Gail claims Jody wants Colt back as Ryder’s double and needs him within 24 hours. With an offer he can’t refuse and hope in his newly reopened heart to rekindle his romance with Jody, Colt agrees, only to find everything’s a lie: Jody doesn’t know he’s coming to the Australian set, he’s not slotted in as Ryder’s stunt double, and in reality, Ryder has disappeared and Gail wants him back on set before anyone notices.

    That particular development sends The Fall Guy haltingly into neo-noir territory: Colt, hardly a detective, private or otherwise, let alone a bounty hunter like his long-gone, hazily remembered TV predecessor, scrambles for clues as to Ryder’s whereabouts. In short order, Colt finds a body on ice, interchangeable, mean-mugging thugs on the menu, and his body bruised, battered, and slightly torn from a handful of increasingly chaotic, frenetic, stunt-heavy fist fights, car chases, and at least one or two seemingly death-defying jumps and/or pyrotechnics.

    Part rom-com, part action-com, and part neo-noir, The Fall Guy feels engineered to be an all-quadrant, demographic-wide crowd-pleaser, probably because that’s exactly what it is. Haphazardly cobbled together from multiple genres and tropes, The Fall Guy often lurches from one major plot line to another, dropping quips and meta-references of variable quality along the way. A good number of screenwriter Drew Pearce’s (Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, Hotel Artemis, Iron Man 3) jokes fail to land with regularity. Recognizing that the Ryder disappearance plotline doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, Pearce smartly signposts the strain put on the other “legs” of the film (romance and action).

    Former stunt-choreographer-turned-director David Leitch (Bullet Train, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, Atomic Blonde), however, fully understands that The Fall Guy’s strengths lie not in the script, but in his stars, specifically Gosling and Blunt and their off-the-astronomical-charts chemistry. They not only make the changing parameters of their off-again, on-again romantic relationship believable, but every painful bump, obstacle, and stall along the way to reconnection they both want but can’t see or find beyond their own own hurt, anguished feelings.

    The Fall Guy opens theatrically on Friday, May 3rd.