Tag Archives: 4.5 Star Movies

American History X (1998)

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It’s natural to be discomforted by the racist language and the violence in “American History X.” After all, what are we if we can’t be rattled and unnerved by terrific fiction? Don’t watch this movie if you’re not prepared for a film about racism where both the blacks and the whites act like absolute animals. This is not a story where the unending compassion of the African-Americans spells redemption for the biased white men. There is startling evil on both sides, just like in real life. And there are good, decent people of both races just trying to get by or to help others, just like in real life.

Danny Vinyard (Edward Furlong) is the kid the students feel antagonized by and the teachers don’t hold out much hope for. His latest travesty- “My Mein Kamf,” a response to a school assignment championing Hitler as a civil rights hero. However the principal of Danny’s tough inner-city school, Bob Sweeney (Avery Brooks,) is determined to help him grapple with his demons and someday, maybe, see the light.

Danny’s neo-Nazi brother, Derek (Edward Norton, in a fantastic performance,) gets out of prison for a sadistic racially-motivated crime a changed man. He wants nothing more to do with the white supremacist existence, and has decided to steer his younger brother, who places Derek on a lofty pedestal, away from the skinhead life. As Danny listens to Derek’s story of his life in prison and his change of heart, he realizes that breaking away from his racist beliefs might be the most important thing he ever does.

But disassociating with old friends and influences might be harder than it sounds, as Derek and Danny soon find out. Meanwhile, Sweeney instructs Danny to write a paper about the events that put his brother in prison and beforehand, led to the Vinyard brothers’ legacy of hate.

Anybody who knows anything about the making of “American History X” knows that the production of the film was a bit of a disaster. Tempers flared, Edward Norton micromanaged the script, and director Tony Kaye eventually wanted his name taken off the finished product and changed, oddly, to ‘Humpty Dumpty’ (hhmm, that’s not weird.) So it might be “American History X”‘s greatest wonder that the movie is not bad at all, despite it’s production woes; on the contrary, it’s very good.

The film does a great job in making you believe in the unlikely premise that Norton could change, after years of being a vicious skinhead and an all-around terrible person. The cycle of hate and of the Vinyard’s beliefs are really well-done. The terrifying thing about Derek’s character (one, of certainly many) is how he runs the gamut from almost rational (saying things that, on the surface make sense, then devolve into racist gobbledygook)) to batshit crazy.

Rather than making Derek a cartoon, he’s written as a terrifyingly believable monster- you can palpably feel the charisma he most hold for frustrated young men who want someone to blame for their screwed-up lives. Edward Norton is an acting powerhouse in this movie. It might still be the best performance of Norton’s career.

Bile and rage and pure adrenaline run through Derek’s veins- he’s scary intense, and you can fully comprehend the fear and even disgust his mom (Beverly D’Angelo) and sister (Jennifer Lien) must have felt before the prison term, simply living with him on a day-to-day basis.

I’ll give credit where it’s due- the whole cast does a great job. But it is Norton who will haunt you for days. Now for the low points. Well, the ending actually worked for me. I’m not sure it was the best way to end the story, but it was overall effective, albeit brutally so. Honestly, the only major problem for me was the music. It was a little too “Oh, let me make you experience major emotions!”

“American History X” is not only worthy for Edward Norton’s performance, although that may be what you remember most about it. It’s a genuinely powerful drama, one of the best of the 90’s. Many movies have preached the power of love over hate and enlightenment over prejudice, but rarely to such a meaningful effect.

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Reservoir Dogs (1992)

“Reservoir Dogs,” Quentin Tarantino’s second film after the little known low-budgeter “My Best Friend’s Birthday,” is a good and polished early effort from a brilliant and controversial filmmaker.

A lot of Tarantino’s trademarks are present here: extreme violence, black humor, brilliant dialogue, and an unflinching portrayal of racism, but a little more emotion is present than with Tarantino’s other works, including a rather touching relationship between two of the main characters, Mr. White and Mr. Orange.

The color-coordinated characters, Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi), Mr. Blue (Edward Bunker), and Mr. Brown (Director Tarantino) are a group of criminals cornered by the police during a diamond heist.
After a bloody shootout, a group of them escape, including Mr. Orange (Roth), who is badly injured in the getaway. Stationed at a hiding spot, the remaining thieves suspect that someone among them may be a police informer. And with volatile Blonde in their midst, the situation has nowhere to go but down.

As per usual with Tarantino, the dialogue is clever and quirky, rife with the idiosyncrasies and oddities of daily life. I didn’t find the dialogue as funny this time round as “Pulp Fiction,” which was ultimately a more engaging work. The acting here is very good, with Chris Penn as “Nice-Guy” Eddie being a weak-point in an otherwise strong cast.

Tim Roth is a stand-out as reluctant newbie Orange, while Michael Madsen as Blonde makes a very convincing psycho. Harvey Keitel and Steve Buscemi give steady support as White and Pink, respectively. The violence is occasionally shocking and provoked walk-outs during “Reservoir Dogs'” stint at the film festival circuit, but may have become less so with time.

Overall, “Reservoir Dogs” embodies what we have come to expect from Tarantino — shocks, thrills, and graphic violence — like an invigorating roller-coaster ride, but with a little extra heart. We care about the relationship between White and Orange, and the following events saddens us. But most of all, it is spectacular Tarantino entertainment. Who could ask for anything more?

Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

“Martha Marcy May Marlene” is an amazing cinematic jolt to the nervous system, plain and simple. It stars Elizabeth Olsen as Martha, a girl who escapes to her sister and her brother-in-law’s lakeside retreat after involving herself with some scary people.

But this is not the ordinary “victim escapes near death — victim fights  back story.” By intertwining Martha’s new life with scenes from her past, we are forced to confront the ambiguities of the situation — is Martha being followed, or does she simply perceive it that way? Was Martha crazy before the events leading to her escape from the cult?

What exactly is Martha’s secret? On the surface, she seems like a normal young girl, but inside her subconscious, an inner war rages. Elizabeth Olsen knocks it out of the park as fragile, damaged Martha, running from inner demons and stuck in a constant state of shell shock.

By making her compliant in some of the cult’s wrongdoings and philosophies, Martha becomes a puzzling character, with a hint of malice in her doe-like eyes. I almost hated her for what she did to Sarah, another girl in the cult, but at the same time I felt as if I kind of understood her.

Soon up to their eyeballs in responsibilities taking care of Martha, Martha’s sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and her husband Ted (Hugh Dancy) despair at the direness of their situation. Meanwhile, memories of life in the cult and cult leader Patrick (John Hawkes in an icky, slimy, absolutely brilliant performance) lie just below the surface.

This is a nearly perfect film, fueled by palpable suspense and great stylistic touches, including a shaky cam moment early on, that, surprisingly, works. On a final note, I was surprised that the ideology behind the cult wasn’t gone into more.

On the other hand, it kind of makes sense, since, ultimately it doesn’t matter if the cult is dedicated to Jesus or free love or the God of tits and wine (to quote the great Tyrion in “Game Of Thrones.”) All that matters is the influence of the cult and what cults do to people.

This movie is about what cults do to people. To dwell on the cult’s ideals would be simply superfluous. “Martha Marcy May Marlene” is brilliant filmmaking, and will hopefully stand the test of time in the annals of indie films. Fin.

Paperhouse (1988)

When I was a little girl, my younger brother and I were convinced if we strapped enough household wires to each other and fell asleep in the same bed, we could meet each other in our dreams. Of course, my mom told us it was impossible, but that didn’t stop us from trying. Children with my wild imagination and faith in the impossible would love the concept of “Paperhouse.”

Of course, “Paperhouse” has a very adult angle that makes it, ultimately, best for grown-ups. 11-year-old Anna (Charlotte Burke,) who is at that age where kids mouth off to their elders and will pick a fight over absolutely anything, faints in school on her birthday and is discovered to have a raging fever.

Bizarrely, when Anna faints, she discovers that when she’s unconscious or asleep, she enters a world entirely unlike her own- to be precise, to a remote house she has drawn before her dizzy spells began. In the house she meets a boy, physically handicapped Marc (Elliot Speirs, who died at a tragically young age,) who bears startling similarities to a boy with muscular dystrophy who Anna’s doctor (Gemma Jones) is seeing, and who Anna has never met outside to dream world.

Anna’s unspoken issues with her well-meaning but hard-drinking father (Ben Cross) show up too when a fictional recreation of dad shows up at Anna and Marc’s secret hideaway, raging, evil, and wielding a hammer. Caught between wakefulness and forever sleep by her life-threatening fever, Anna must fight for her sanity and her life, as well as the life of her newfound friend.

Contrary to certain opinions, I found the acting in this to be quite effective, from most of the child players as well as the adults. The kids aren’t always the best, but what do you expect with newbies to the craft? Despite her brattiness, I didn’t find Anna to be an unlikable character- actually, I saw her as a bright and willful child struggling to cope with a childhood harder than most.

The psychological angle here is really fascinating- Anna’s mostly loving if distant father becomes a malformed monster in her dreams, while her mother (Glenne Headly) fails or refuses to see her husband’s alcoholism and the rift between him and their daughter. It resounded with me for entirely personal reasons, and I loved the entertaining yet insightful script.

The set pieces here are also magnificent, and this movie has one of the scariest and most memorable dream sequences I’ve ever seen, the kind of thing that haunts the nightmares of any children unfortunate enough to watch it. The score, however, is mediocre- mostly typical 80’s movie music.

“Paperhouse” is an entertaining and  underrated gem of the 80’s, and although it’s not full blood horror, it has enough unnerving moments to make it ‘light horror’ for people who don’t like really intense scary movies. Although it’s not available as yet on Netflix, it’s totally worth getting online if you have a DVD player that will play it. This is a great film about childhood dreams or fears around the lines of “Pan’s Labyrinth” or “Coraline,” and definitely worth checking out. 

Hellion (2014)

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The lukewarm critical response to “Hellion” is utter bollocks. This is how indie dramas are meant to be done, rough and real and full of heartbreak. I’m not acting as a shyster voucher for “Hellion” because Jesse Freaking Pinkman‘s in it (although he is, and he’s great, guys,) but because it’s a legitimately good movie with fantastic performances all around (including from stand-out child actors Josh Wiggins and Deke Garner, who give two of the best juvenile portrayals I’ve seen in a long time.)

Despite its sensationalistic title (which puts you in mind of a “Rosemary’s Baby”-type chiller about malignant demon-spawn,) “Hellion” just feels very real. It’s an outstanding Southern-fried drama in the same league as “Winter’s Bone,” “Sling Blade,” and “Mud.” BMX-obsessed delinquent Jacob (Wiggins) is a damaged, resentful 13-year-old boy who’s leading his little brother Wes (Garner) into the same trouble that’s he’s perpetually been in since his mom died.

The boy’s exasperated father, Hollis (Paul,) is a well-meaning but ultimately ineffectual hard drinker, who hasn’t handled the death of his wife so well himself. When Wes gets taken by CPS and placed in the home of his aunt (Juliette Lewis,) Hollis realizes he has to clean his act up in order to get his child back, but his oldest is going up a rocky road that there won’t be any easy return from.

All the scenes, especially the ones involving Jacob and his group of Bravado-filled friends (who talk like real pre-teens and don’t look about thirty, as per most movie adolescents) and Jacob and his impressionable, sweet little brother seem very true to life. The Child Protective Services people and the cops are portrayed realistically and effectively (the police, particularly and due in no small part to the ‘Hands Up Don’t Shoot’ hooplah, are often depicted as the Antichrist in less fair-minded films and TV shows.

“Hellion” is very much an improvement upon the eponymous short on which it was based, which I truthfully only watched a few minutes of.) One drastic change made was that in the short the father was a stereotypical “I’ll make a man out of you yet boy- get me the belt!” uber-hick character (coincidently, he is not played by Aaron Paul in that version.) Hollis in the feature film is much less clichéd in that he seems like a gentle person and not a mean drunk despite being an alcoholic.

When he butts heads with Jacob he is just trying to reinforce discipline, not being abusive. And he refrains from physical discipline at many times when I might’ve hauled off and smacked the kid some. However, he is not a very effective parent in the long run. The filmmaker also does a good job portraying Aunt Pam (Lewis) as meddling without making it a black-and-white situation.

“Hellion”‘s script is both tough and compassionate, the way I want to write when I ‘grow up.’ Aaron Paul proves he can do more than being Heisenberg’s sidekick (which he’s good at, admittedly) and it’ll be an f’ing crime if the kid actors don’t get a lot more work in the years to come. Sod the critics on this one, watch this movie!

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The Miracle Worker (1962)

Blind, deaf, and mute, wild child Helen Keller was shut out from communication and terrorized her affluent Southern family, until willful teacher Annie Sullivan brought structure and discipline to Helen’s life and through teaching communication offered Helen something entirely new- a way to speak, and a voice of her own. “The Miracle Worker” tells the true story of Keller’s childhood, with a special touch of sensitivity and minimal sentimentality.

Helen, who became a respected feminist and disability rights advocate, owes her success in no small part to Annie Sullivan, her teacher and friend. But it didn’t start out that way. When Annie Sullivan (Anne Bancroft,) she is entangled almost immediately in a battle of wills with Helen (Patty Duke,) an unkempt girl seething with frustration and coddled by her exhausted family.

Helen’s family deals with the pressure of her upkeep in different ways- Captain Arthur Keller (Victor Killer) postures and demands respect and obedience from his beleaguered family, while Kate Keller (Inga Swenson) maintains the dutiful ‘whatever you think is best’ attitude of old-world Southern manners. Meanwhile older brother James (Andrew Prine) goofs off and mouths  off, while tensions between him and his domineering father simmer.

There are no ‘bad guys’ here- no monsters in the closet who want to exploit Helen, no boogeymen who want to make the wretched girl suffer. Helen is not a saccharine movie character- she kicks, screams, and bites, and at one point quite deliberately stabs her teacher with a needle- but she is never reprehensible or unlikable, and we never lose sight of her unbearable frustration and anger.

Patty Duke gives what is surely one of the best child performances of all time. Not once does she break character- we believe she is this wild, nearly feral deaf, blind, and mute girl. She excels beyond the portrayals most adult performers deliver of the disabled. The entire cast turn in excellent acting jobs.

It is impossible not to feel enormous  respect for Annie Sullivan, as she refuses to take the easy way out (letting the child have her way) in the long, grueling process of educating Helen. When I saw the stage version of this at our local theater, the audience tittered and laughed at the scene where Annie tries to force her pupil to eat with a fork. In the film adaptation, nothing funny about it. Just pure grit.

“The Miracle Worker” is a touching true story that is still effective years later, and can be enjoyed by the whole family. No blood guts n’ sex, no infantile humor pandering the younger set, just powerful storytelling. It is a true classic that can be enjoyed for years to come.

Foxcatcher (2014)

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A grim psychological study of co-dependency and decompensation, “Foxcatcher” features two profoundly against-type performances from Hollywood A-listers.  Steve Carrell, star of light comedies like “Get Smart” and “The Office” and occasionally slightly darker fodder like “The Way, Way Back” and “Little Miss Sunshine,” portrays the real-life millionaire aristocrat John Du Pont, an exorbitantly rich man-child pressed under the thumb of a domineering mother (Vanessa Redgrave) and struggling with his own demons.

When Du Pont offers to endorse up and coming wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum, in another unusual performance,) it seems to Schultz, the strong, silent type, like a match made in heaven- at last he will make a name for himself and stop being regarded merely as an extension of his older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo,) who also wrestles competitively. To the viewer, it seems weirdly abrupt… Du Pont spirits Schultz off to his mansion to and introduces him to ‘Team Foxcatcher,’ a group of fighters that Du Pont plans to shape into an unbeatable team and send to the nationals.

For a greasy, apparently limited individual, Du Pont sure can be a manipulative sonofabitch, and Carrell plays him with a mix of childish mania and snakelike bile. “Foxcatcher” is arresting in it’s build-up. You watch Carrell, muscles tensed, waiting for him to snap like a brittle branch, but up until the finale you are unsure of why you feel this way. Schultz has serious issues of his own, and anyone who dismissed Channing Tatum as a vacuous pretty boy  up until now will be wowed by his powerhouse performance.

I’ve never seen such duel performances exuding desperation since Olivia Colman and Peter Mullan in Paddy Considine’s “Tyrannosaur.” I couldn’t help see somewhat homoerotic overtones in the relationship between John Du Pont and Mark Schultz. The way Du Pont treats Schultz is reminiscent of an abusive marital relationship, with Du Pont manipulating Schultz with promises of greatness and cutting him off from the only person who loves him, his brother Dave.

The movie is sometimes reminiscent of Haneke in it’s minimalism (without the utter clinical iciness of Haneke’s films,) with a touch of Hitchcock by way of “Psycho,” but the story it tells is all too real. I ended up feeling for all the characters and despairing for their extreme loneliness.

I’m frankly surprised this film played at the theater; it doesn’t have near the mainstream appeal of something like “The Dark Knight Rises” or “Guardians of the Galaxy.” It’s the kind of movie that would probably barely get a release if not for the big names who agreed to play in it. Nonetheless, it is a must-watch for independent film fans and people who like think during a movie rather than just react to the obvious implications of what’s on screen.

Don’t watch “Foxcatcher” for the wrestling; there isn’t as much as a fan of the sport might like to think. Ultimately it’s almost as much about the death of the sport as it is about isolation and desperate circumstances. Watch the cage match at the end of the movie and you’ll see what I mean. “Foxcatcher” is a surprising movie with outstanding performances, and while it’s not a film you would, say, take your kid to, it’s very worthy of praise and deserves all the awards it gets.

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It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

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To be frank, the odds were very much against me liking this this film- the sometimes painfully old-fashioned values, the copious amount of sentimentality- but I have to say it just got to me. And that’s the mark of an effective movie isn’t it… it touches people who aren’t exactly it’s target audience. That said, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is timeless, earnest, and well-made in all respects. And it is certainly a movie that does not need a big budget makeover (keep on walking, Hollywood.)

George Bailey (James Stewart) is a good man, certainly not a perfect man, but a person who is basically devoted to the business of doing the right thing. You see, George wanted to go places- travel the world and become a renowned architect- but life had other plans, keeping him indefinitely in the one-horse town of Bedford Falls, where the corrupt moneylender Henry Potter (Lionel Barrymore) is vying for power.

George marries his true love, Mary Hatch (Donna Reed,) but the drudgery of middle age and the upkeep of his father (Samuel S. Hinds)’s building and loaning business turn George depressed and bitter. On Christmas Eve, a crisis inadvertently caused by George’s slightly dim and hard-drinking Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) and his own personal woes leave George standing on the edge of a bridge, contemplating suicide.

A angel named Clarence (Henry Travers) stops George from throwing away his life and shows him the disaster that would have fallen upon everyone George knows if he hadn’t been born. The climax is bittersweet but life-affirming and touching. Some of the gender themes are woefully outdated (like the portrayal of the unmarried Mary Hatch in the George-less reality as a frumpy old maid  and a librarian, none the less!) but the general tone of the movie is good.

James Stewart does a great acting job in this, playing a well-developed ordinary guy with a challenging life and a good heart. Donna Reed backs Stewart up nicely in a supporting love-interest role. Some of the scenes are emotionally tough and so more effective (Bailey is not above occasional cruelty, even to his adoring wife.) The only real weakness I see present is the child actor’s performances; they seemed a little fake to me.

I sincerely hope the alleged ‘sequel’ to this movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life: The Continued Story” is a hoax, though I also found out that there is TV remake called “It Happened One Christmas” featuring a female George Bailey. Both films are wrong-headed on every account. You don’t mess with the classics. I picture the quintessential modern-day remake to be directed by that Madea guy, starring the obligatory all-black cast (we’ve got to be inclusive now,) and featuring poo-poo and fart jokes. “Madea’s It’s a Wonderful Life.” Horrors.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is so effective to this day because George is not the perfect person, because no one is an ideal human being. He struggles with the moral crises and questions that plague everyone. He’s an everyman, but he comes up on top and keenly aware of his own worth, which is a happy ending anyone can root for. Because we all want to believe we matter, and “It’s a Wonderful Life” reinforces this belief.

Everyone shouls see “It’s a Wonderful Life” at least once in their lives, especially if they’re feeling down (though learning that George Bailey saves a whole town might make you feel worse, in retrospect.) It’s a classic for a reason, and it has a wonderful cast, though I’ll be damned if little Zuzu (Karolyn Grimes) does annoy the bejeezus out of me (her high-pitched squeak of “Teacher says every time a bell rings, an angel gets it’s wings!” is enough to give anyone pause.) But mostly, it is a timeless commentary on the beauty and fragility of the human condition.

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Children of Men (2006)

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In these visions of the future, do things ever go even slightly well? Okay, okay, I’ll grant you “Star Trek,” with it’s intergalactic exploits and shows of compassion and friendship between James T. Kirk and the impeccably logical Vulcan Spock. “Star Wars” maybe, But for the most part, for every good thing that happens in a science fiction film, a hundred shitty things happen almost simultaneously.

Take the government for example. The government in Alfonso Cuarón’s “Children of Men” is shady at best, completely, reprehensibly corrupt at worst. They even offer suicide kits for disillusioned citizens with which to off themselves in a pinch. “Ah, but at least there IS a government,” you say? Well in this society, even total anarchy seems preferable to this Hell on earth. Never has a post-apocalyptic future looked so bleak.

In “Children of Men”‘s world, women have become infertile, causing mankind to lose faith in our survival. Politically apathetic citizen Theo (Clive Owen) is begrudgingly hired by his ex-girlfriend Julian (Julianne Moore) to smuggle the teenaged Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey,) the first pregnant woman in eighteen years, out of the ransacked Britain to a program that supposedly can help her.

Julian is a member of an underground group known as the Fish, which rebels against the government, often through acts of urban terrorism. She and Theo have a big-time history, having had and lost a child together. As Theo and Kee make a desperate bid for survival, everyone wants what Kee’s got for their own twisted agenda- including some of the Fish, who think ownership of the child will help their political cause.

“Children of Men” seems hyper realistic despite it’s mostly unreal premise, which nonetheless bears resemblance to many aspects of societal discord, including the Fish as kind of a post-apocalyptic IRA. The actors give excellent performances, including virtual unknown Ashity as Kee and Michael Caine as an amiable pothead who’s long since retreated to live apart from society’s electric eye.

I like the fact that Kee is promiscuous and not at all attempt to capture the sanctity of a Virgin Mary-type character. The girl’s got a mouth on her, and, you know, I kind of like that. However, she and Theo form a (strictly platonic) bond as they evade the corruption of futuristic Britain. There’s also a Holocaust-type vibe to the story as Illegal immigrants are caged and brutalized for the sake of the country’s ‘purity.’

I was initially not sure if I would like this movie, since it was not on my immediate radar, but “Children of Men” proved to be timeless science fiction, up to par with “Blade Runner” (I personally think “2001” is about as riveting as watching paint dry, to use a film-critique stereotype, so you won’t get my support on exulting that one.) I actually found myself tearing up at one point, which I only do occasionally, because “Children of Men” has what many apocalyptic fests lack- a heart. This is one of the few science fiction movies I would even readily describe as ‘beautiful.’

Violent but strangely sad and tender, “Children of Men”knocks it out of the ballpark and is most not just another stuff-goes-wrong-in-the-future motion picture. People with short attention spans might be disappointed, but those who approach the experience of watching a movie as akin to reading a book will instinctively know what I know- that patience, and thoughtfulness, holds its own rewards.

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Okay, confession time- this is my first “Planet of the Apes” movie. I have never seen the Charlton Heston original. Hell, I haven’t even seen the crappily reviewed Tim Burton film with Helena Bonham Carter and Mark Wahlberg.

But I have to say, despite my lack of experience with the “Apes” franchise, this one grabbed my attention right away. This is up there with Neill Blomkamp’s “District 9” as science fiction at its most emotionally charged, tinged with social commentary.

This is a star-studded cast — James Franco, John Lithgow, Tom Felton of the “Harry Potter” films — and yet the film belongs to the apes. These CGI wonders are incredibly realistic, and through the magic of modern technology, given the facial expressions of actors.

The plot: Will (James Franco) works for a scientific research facility, where he is trying to create a serum that will help the brain repair itself, curing maladies such as Alzheimer’s and other mental disorders. His heartache and his inspiration is his father Charles (John Lithgow) whose mind is in the grip of the disease.

For reasons I will not go into here, Will is put in charge of raising Caesar, a highly intelligent ape. Caesar’s expressions are contributed by Andy Serkis, the face behind Peter Jackson’s Gollum and King Kong. Will quickly gets attached to Caesar, but Will’s veterinarian girlfriend, Caroline (Frieda Pinto) wisely advises him that Caesar will not be young and cute forever.

Caesar’s presumed of abandonment at the hands of Will and abuse perpetrated by cruel ape handler Dodge (Tom Felton, mustering every bit of his meanness from his Draco Malfoy days) is upsetting but crucial to Caesar’s development as a character. But rather than make Will (Franco) into a villain, the film makes him a essentially good character who grows to care for Caesar deeply, but cannot take charge of his fate.

It hurt me to see Caesar abandoned and abused by the humans, so watching him break free and command a legion of primates in the ape revolution is gratifying. Most of the time, the movie makes you believe in its characters and happenings 100% percent, which is hard to do in a super-intelligent-apes-take-over-the-world movie. Caesar is an amazing character who grows so much throughout the movie, reaching a peak of development that some human film characters never even aspire to.

You don’t have to be a “Planet of the Apes” fan to see there is some kind of genius at work here, and this timely and relevant film will thrill and engross you. See it. Trust me.