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Recent Movies: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes; The Dog; Yves Saint Laurent; Old Films: The Godfather Part II

August 22, 2014

Recent Movies

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

In the distant future, a worldwide virus has killed most of the human race.  A community of survivors lives in the ruins of San Francisco while a tribe of very advanced apes with human-like qualities lives nearby in Muir Woods.  Tensions and violence erupt between the species.

Although this is a science-fiction film and had opportunities for new paradigms, the old chivalry paradigms are still used particularly in the ape community where the men do all the hunting, fighting, and governing while the women stay home and give birth to baby boys.  (As an aside, why is it that nearly all on-screen births are boys?  If girl children are never seen to be born, then how can there end up being mothers to give birth to baby boys?)  On the human side, there is a major female character but, as usual, this number is kept to the usual maximum of one.

Besides the misgivings, this is still a finely made film mainly for the special effects and the make-up prosthetics.  It is also a good metaphor for current and past wars among humans.  Each tribe in the film has a minority of wise people with good hearts who try to find peaceful common ground with like minds on the other side.  Sadly, they are attacked for this by members of their own tribe.  Does this sound familiar?

With this insight on “humanity” and constant action, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is an entertaining film.

RATING (out of four stars):   * * *


The Dog

The subject of this documentary is John Wojtowicz who lead a bank robbery in 1972 in Brooklyn, New York to finance his male lover’s sex change surgery.  This event was the inspiration for the acclaimed film “Dog Day Afternoon” (1975) with Al Pacino playing the part of Wojtowicz.

With superb footage and engaging interviews, “The Dog” manages to recall with nostalgia that wonderfully bizarre energy and attitude of the early 1970s (when there was more emphasis on fun and passion and less emphasis on property resale value) including the beginnings of the sexual revolution and the gay liberation movement.  The interviewees themselves are fascinating especially family members and ex-spouses.

Wojtowicz himself is hilarious with his tough Brooklyn accent talking bluntly and profanely about his past sexual escapades with both men and women.  This film also does a great job in exposing the collective obsession with celebrity.  Though Wojtowicz earned his fame notoriously as a bank robber, many people still thought of him as a celebrity.  The “fame” went to his head but this is only a part of what makes him a fascinating documentary subject.

RATING:   * * *


Yves Saint Laurent

The famous fashion designer is the subject of this French biographical film covering a twenty-year period beginning with the time he worked for designer Christian Dior in the late 1950s and later met his lover/business partner Pierre Bergé.

This film is as chic as the designer himself.  The various styles in fashion, music and lifestyle varied greatly from the late 1950s to the late 1970s and this film emphasizes the aesthetics, charm, indulgences, scandals, and revolutionary feel, taking the viewer on a joyous ride.

The same storyline was exposed in the documentary L’Amour Fou (2009) which was made shortly after Saint Laurent’s death in 2008.  The documentary is more complete in covering the full life story and its aftermath upon Saint Laurent’s passing.  The fictional film concentrates more on the difficult years of addiction and obsession in the 1970s but despite the incompleteness, it’s still enjoyable mainly due to the lead performance of Pierre Niney who even looks like the designer.

RATING:   * * *


Great Old Films Seen Again

The Godfather Part II   (1974 – U.S.)

Both a prequel and a sequel to “The Godfather”, this film tells parallel stories in different time periods.  The early one takes place in the early 1900s when Vito Corleone escapes a traumatic childhood in Sicily and becomes part of the crime scene in New York City .  The later story in the 1950s has Vito’s son Michael taking over the family’s business of organized crime.

As both crime drama and family drama, this film earns high marks in both categories.  The later story includes a patriarch who is so ruthless and power-hungry that it would normally be tempting to despise him and those around him.  Yet, the skillful directing by Francis Ford Coppola successfully tricks the audience into showing great interest to the clan almost to the point of sympathy.

The later story is sometimes difficult to follow.  It’s extremely busy with many details and characters that are sometimes difficult to follow and remember.  Luckily, the earlier story is straightforward.  Each story is enhanced with differing styles of photography by the very talented Gordon Willis.  The music of Nino Rota and Carmine Coppola is also beautiful.

Despite the mentioned flaw, this film has so much talent involved that it ends up as a memorable experience even after multiple viewings.  The supporting cast members John Cazale, Michael Gazzo, Lee Strasberg, and Talia Shire all have at least one scene that gives them a chance to shine.  As Vito, Robert DeNiro shows greatness in the role that brought him to fame.  But the highlight of the cast is Al Pacino as Michael who personifies the worst side of humanity in subtle ways especially in two scenes.  In one, where he has a serious confrontation with his wife, his still face can’t fully betray his anger as his jaw shakes. In another scene, he is viewed from a distance behind a glass screen door.  Even at a distance, his silent pose conveys soullessness and evil.

Coppola’s directing is at its best in crowd scenes, particularly a street festival in the earlier story where a murder is being planned; and a New Year’s Eve party in Havana in the later story.  Overall, “The Godfather Part II” has aged very well.

RATING:   * * * 1/2

Outstanding Achievement:   Directing by Francis Ford Coppola


– Dennis Bowman


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