Monday, July 24, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

War for the Planet of the Apes (20th Century Fox, 2017) – Director: Matt Reeves. Writers: Mark Bomback & Matt Reeves (s/p). Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver (characters). Pierre Boulle (novel). Stars: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Amiah Miller, Tony Notary, Ty Olsson, Michael Adamthwaite, Toby Kebbel, Gabriel Chavarria, Judy Greer, Sara Canning, Devyn Dalton, Aleks Paunovic & Alessandro Juliani. Color, Rated PG-13, 140 minutes.

Nowhere have the huge advances of technology in movie-making been showcased as when we compare the fabulous make-up jobs in Planet of the Apes (1968) and its four sequels with the computer generated images of the latest three and this remarkable film.

Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter would have been amazed (and probably thankful) that they would no longer have to spend hours just getting their faces done. The realism of these eye-popping movies and the range of emotions expressed on all the ape characters’ faces was mind boggling.

For all those who have not seen the two previous prequels, the movie starts with a brief encapsulation of the first two to get the audience up to speed for the third.

The outbreak of the Simian Flu Virus apparently is one main reason this war started. The other was the antagonism of Koba (Toby Kebbell), an aggressive and violent bonobo (and you thought bonobos were all loving and caring) in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Humans are fearful of the apes both for their increasing intelligence and for the virus that causes humans to devolve. 

The first thing that goes is the power of speech.

Caesar (Andy Serkis) has led the remainder of his troop into the Muir Woods for safety but the mysteriously unnamed Colonel (Harrelson) orders his Alpha-Omega soldiers seek them out. Hoping to kill Caesar, the Colonel enters Caesar’s cave behind a waterfall and kills his wife Cornelia (Greer) and oldest son before being ousted by Caesar. Fortunately, his younger son Cornelius hid himself and survived.

Caesar entrusts Cornelius to Lake (Canning), Blue Eyes’ mate and instructs the troop to cross the desert (one of several biblical references in this movie) to be safe from the soldiers. His best friend Rocket (Notary), the orangutan Maurice (Konoval) and gorilla Luca (Adamthwaite) insist on going with him.

On the way they encounter a human living alone with his daughter who tries to shoot them but is killed in the act. They find the daughter (Miller) hiding in the shack she calls home and learn that she’s unable to speak. Maurice convinces Caesar to take the girl with them arguing that she will die without their help. They find a chromium insignia from the side of a Chevrolet Nova, give it to the girl and it becomes her name.

Later, in an abandoned souvenir shop they meet Bad Ape (Zahn) a chimp who lived in the Sierra Zoo and escaped and who was also exposed to the Simian flu virus. He and Caesar are they only apes to speak until the end, when Maurice utters his first words. The rest all communicate in American Sign Language. Though he’s terrified of doing so, Bad Ape leads Caesar and his comrades to the former weapons depot where the Colonel and his army have captured and enslaved Caesar’s troop and are forcing them to build a wall (another biblical reference, this time to the Israelites building for the Egyptians). It seems they were betrayed by the white gorilla Winter (Paunovic). The troop has been starved and given no water in days and have been separated from their “children” in a cage apart.

Luca is killed by the soldiers and Caesar is captured and crucified on an “X” shaped cross (biblical reference number three, not to mention St. Andrew). Caesar learns from the Colonel the main impetus behind his hatred of apes. The Colonel’s son contracted the Simian Flu Virus and he had to shoot him before he became a “primitive.” Now it’s up to Maurice, Rocket and Nova to free the troop and escape to the desert.

The repeated flashes of Exodus are paralleled by the Nazi-like actions of the Colonel and his soldiers, right down to the hanging of an American flag vertically, smeared with the Greek letters alpha and omega over the balcony where he addresses them, like Hitler. Several of the former followers of Koba have joined the Colonel, including Red (Olsson) a gorilla who will see the error of his ways toward the end of the film. The Colonel rages that “nature” has trumped the efforts of humankind to survive but nothing prepares him for the final biblical reference reminiscent of the parting of the Red Sea scene from The Ten Commandments (1956). You have to see it.

War for the Planet of the Apes is a powerful movie. Andy Serkis is excellent as the peaceful leader who is forced into a war and is haunted by his brother Koba’s hatred. Woody Harrelson gives another sterling performance, so far from the kooky bartender on Cheers. Karin Konoval is the wisdom of the movie and prefigures Doctor Zaius beautifully. Michael Giacchino’s musical soundtrack accentuates the action and emotional scenes throughout, even playing the Star-Spangled Banner at one point as if it were Deutschland Uber Alles. And if you like large explosions, this movie has them.

I was gladdened by the single (and only) reference to apes as “monkeys” when it appeared on the back of a soldier’s helmet as “Monkey Killer.”

And yes, I got the insulting term the soldiers called the gorillas – “Donkey” – as in Donkey Kong. If I were a five hundred pound gorilla, I wouldn’t stand for it. The dialogue, though appropriate, was not too quotable except for the Colonel’s “This is the Holy War.” And Caesar’s running line, “Apes, together, strong!” accompanied by the gesture of two fists held together at eye level.

Though this movie stands on its own and ends satisfyingly, I hear that there is another Planet of the Apes film to come. I will definitely see it.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Apna Masala
344 East 6th St., New York

Having dined at twenty restaurants on East 6th Street (most of them Indian) you can imagine my wonder at having missed one.

Apna Masala (My Spice in Hindi) has been in business for three years. It’s a pretty place, with black awnings trimmed in orange, bright gold lettering and thousands of multicolored twinkle lights.

Inside, the tables have red tablecloths and protective glass on top. There are colorful tile murals depicting scenes from Hindu mythology and beautiful faux bronze/copper ceiling tiles of intricate design. The young man to whom I announced my reservation indicated a corner table by the window, a perfect place to see everything inside and out.

Another server asked if I wanted a drink. Fortunately, the next table had a cocktail menu (mine didn’t) and I swiped it. I ordered the “Adios Mother” – vodka, gin, rum, tequila, blue curacao (really?), sour mix and lemon-lime soda. This relative of the Long Island Iced Tea was served in a tall Coca-Cola style glass over ice. It was mildly powerful but the color of lemonade, so I guess they ran out of the blue curacao. It tasted like alcoholic lemonade.

My first course, the “Meat Samosa,” arrived – seasoned minced lamb and potatoes, raisins and cashews in a crispy turnover, served with chutneys. The familiar tamarind, mint and onion chutneys were not brought to my table. After three years, this should be second nature. The samosas were excellent, crispy on the outside meaty and only mildly spicy inside.

I was not surprised that my second course arrived soon after the first. The “Murgh Shorba" (chicken soup) “delicately spiced clear (not) chicken soup with tellicherry peppercorns, julienne of carrots, fresh ginger and herbs.” Though delicious and savory, this soup was definitely not clear. Served in a ceramic crock, it was yellowish in color and opaque with juicy pieces of chicken and crunchy vegetables.

Miraculously, they waited to serve my main course until after I had finished the appetizer and soup. The “Lamb Bhindi,” cooked with fresh okra in a mild spiced sauce was wonderful over basmati rice, with a side of raita – homemade whipped yoghurt with grated cucumber, cumin seeds and cilantro – and fresh baked Kashmiri naan, stuffed with cashew nuts, pistachios, almonds, coconut, apricots, cherries and raisins. Though I knew it was there, I couldn’t locate the okra in the dish. It probably dissolved in the cooking process. I would recommend this dish to people who don’t like a lot of spice. It was delightful. The raita was cooling and refreshing, but a standard recipe. The Kashmiri naan wasn’t the best I’ve had, but I knew it wasn’t the Keema naan my server might have brought (bread stuffed with minced lamb). Being hungry that evening, I finished everything.

One can rarely find unique Indian desserts on a menu and this place was no different. I chose the “Ras Malai,” a homemade cheese dish in a sweet yoghurt sauce flavored with cardamom. Again, a standard dessert but a good one. To finish, I chose the masala chai (spiced tea), a favorite of mine and made very well.

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