“War for the Planet of the Apes” – A Beautiful Modern Biblical Epic… With Apes

By Josiah Wampfler

War for the Planet of the Apes is an astounding achievement in filmmaking and the best finale to a trilogy I’ve seen since Peter Jackson’s Return of the King. Director Matt Reeves renders the world in lush colors and brings a type of controlled, sure-handed cinematography rarely seen in modern blockbusters. The action is electric, but not chaotic. It is a type of filmmaking and a type of story that we simply don’t see on this scale anymore where every single frame is deliberate and every camera move is purposeful. With War, Reeves has crafted a modern biblical epic with apes at its core and, though the filmmaking is clearly inspired by cinema of old, it couldn’t feel more fresh.

For the first time in the new Apes trilogy, our main protagonist is Caesar and the film is told almost exclusively from the viewpoint of the apes. After the events of the previous film, Caesar and his apes are engaged in a war with the humans they don’t want any part of. But, after Caesar suffers unimaginable loss at the hands of Woody Harrelson’s character, known only as The Colonel, the war becomes too personal to ignore. In his lust for revenge, Caesar leaves his ape followers to track down The Colonel. The peace-loving ape is in danger of being consumed by his rage and the unintended consequences of his actions put both he and the entire ape nation at risk.

Just like that other great trilogy capper, The Return of the King, War for the Planet of the Apes also happens to feature an astounding motion capture performance from the great Andy Serkis, who deserved an Oscar nomination for his final outing as Caesar. Serkis has always been an incredibly talented actor, but this is the first time he’s had the opportunity to shine like this. Recalling biblical epics of old, War cleverly portrays Caesar as a Moses-like character and Serkis rivals Charlton Heston in the role. This Moses must grapple with his duty and commitment to the ape nation and his rage. And though Serkis does a wonderful job showing us a darker Caesar who’s love for humanity has run out, we can the turmoil raging underneath the surface that is exacerbated by the character of Nova.

What truly makes War for the Planet of the Apes so surprising and wonderful is its boldness in being quiet and being still. While there is action (The film starts and ends with some incredible action scenes), the war that happens in the film is much more of an internal one. The quietness comes from the apes main mode of communication (sign language), but it also comes from the mute Nova. The young girl, played by a superb Amiah Miller, joins the group after her father is killed after attacking the apes and Caesar’s right-hand man Maurice can’t bare to leave her behind. She becomes a constant reminder for Caesar of the goodness of humanity, complicating his hatred and rage.

Due to the inclusion of another character who does not speak, the film quite impressively contains very little spoken dialogue. It is something that actually choked me up when the credits rolled and I thought about it: Matt Reeves delivered a beautiful, big-budget blockbuster that is told almost entirely through images and sign language and prominently features a mute girl who is a representation of the goodness of humanity. Instead of the cluster of noise that most Hollywood blockbusters bring us, War for the Planet of the Apes brings us back to the basics of cinema by truly sticking to the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words.

War for the Planet of the Apes contains a multitude of interesting themes that I could go on and on about, but I think it is mainly a film about the all-consuming nature of hatred and rage and the nature of humanity. It is a gorgeous and emotionally resonant end to Caesar’s story filled with incredible CGI from the folks at Wetta, incredible performances from the entire cast (I prefer to think Woody Harrelson’s Oscar nomination for for this film), a lovely score from Michael Giacchino and one of the best stories I’ve seen told in a modern blockbuster. With War, Matt Reeves has made the new Apes trilogy one of the best of all time.


War for the Planet of the Apes is currently available to rent through Google Play, Amazon Video and iTunes. It is also available on DVD and Blu-ray.

“BPM” – A Vital Film About Love, Death and Political Action

By Josiah Wampfler

“[I]t is IMPORTANT AS HELL, especially right now, to see a film based on factual events featuring YOUNG PEOPLE literally fighting for their lives, fighting for all our lives honestly, against bigotry and bigoted bureaucratic policy (not to mention corporate greed).”

– Barry Jenkins, director of Moonlight.

I decided to see the French film BPM off of this recommendation and, much like Jenkins, the film utterly destroyed me. The realistic ways it dealt with death, love and political action completely floored me. It is something I have really never seen before. Strangely enough, the best review quote that summed up many of my thoughts on the film was found in a mixed review from critic John Bleasdale. He writes, “[Director Robin] Campillo doesn’t edit for our comfort and we feel both the tragedy and the boredom of death.” And this is exactly what makes BPM so profound.

BPM is set in 1980s Paris during the height of the AIDS epidemic. The film revolves around an AIDS political action group called ACT UP PARIS who are fed up with how the government and pharmaceutical companies are ignoring marginalized people affected by the disease like drug users and the LGBTQ community. More specifically though, BPM is about two men (one who has AIDS and the other who doesn’t) who fall in love amidst this group.

This relationship is the driving force behind the film. Sean (Nahuel Perez Biscayart) contracted the disease when he was in his teens from a school teacher he had a relationship with. Nathan (Arnaud Valois) has had lovers he found out later were diagnosed, but he has been fortunate enough to remain negative. Sean has been intimately involved in the group for awhile when Nathan shows up and they hit it off almost immediately.

What makes BPM so wonderful and unique is how this relationship plays out. Sean and Nathan, despite having different statuses enjoy a loving relationship filled with safe sex. And despite the dark turn that inevitably comes for the two of them, BPM does not shy away from showing the utter joy they experience together, and that includes some explicit sex scenes that are tender but also as sexy as heterosexual sex scenes we’ve seen in film. The joy that is shown throughout the film gives these men their full humanity, refusing to reduce their stories to merely tragedy, but it also makes the pain that comes that much more devastating

Though the film is set in the 1980s, it could not be more relevant or vital for today. BPM painstakingly shows the hard work that political action requires. Much of the film takes place in a classroom where ACT UP PARIS meets, showing the members vigorously debating what actions to take. Most importantly, the film shows us both the value and difficulty of compromise. As Jenkins’ quote at the top of the page says, it is incredibly important for people right now to see the work that is required for political change. To see that work being done by queer folks is even better.

Bringing together all of these elements is some truly beautiful cinematography (One of the main reasons the classroom scenes feel so vibrant and kinetic) and incredible performances from the entire cast, but specifically Biscayart and Valois. The chemistry between these two men jumps off the screen and it is the work that they put in toward the end of the film that had me in full ugly cry mode. BPM is not an easy sit. It certainly takes its time showing us the lives of these characters (Both the tragedy and boredom are in there). But, it is a beautiful, raw story that needed to be told, especially now.

BPM is currently available to rent through Google Play, Amazon Video and iTunes.

“Ingrid Goes West” : A Darkly Funny Horror Story About The Social Media Age

By Josiah Wampfler

“I don’t think adults understand the internet at all… They literally think the internet is hashtags and memes! What are these kids doing with their hashtags and memes? Not knowing that under their nose that the brain chemistry of their children is changing in real time. Like, the way that the children view their own image and soul and relate to their own sense of self is changing.” – Bo Burnham; “You Made it Weird” Podcast

I thought about this quote and about Bo Burnham’s comedy special Make Happy a lot while watching Ingrid Goes West, because in many ways they are directly related. What Burnham does in Make Happy, and what he does throughout much of his comedy, is craft these meta shows that deconstruct what it is to be a comic and what it is to deal with fame. It is something that, on the face of it, should be completely unrelatable. But, as Burnham has discovered, and what Ingrid Goes West explores, social media has made fame possible for so many more people and in the process it has changed how we view ourselves based on our online personas. In many ways, the only difference between Burnham and ourselves, the only difference between Ingrid and Taylor, is the number of followers or likes they have online.

Ingrid Goes West is a dark comedy from director Matt Spicer, which follows Ingrid Thornburn (Aubrey Plaza), an unhinged social media stalker. In fact, she travels all the way to Los Angeles in an attempt to befriend Instagram star Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen, who gives a knockout performance), who she discovered in a fashion magazine. This comes after the death of her mother and $60,000 Ingrid receives from an insurance check. Once in L.A., Ingrid moves fast, and through a little dog-napping that sets up their meeting, she and Taylor are soon BFFs, though the second F is certainly in question.

What separates Ingrid Goes West from the plethora of other crazy stalker films is the humanity it gives its main character. Through a script that allows us to laugh with Ingrid at all the over-the-top hipster California bullshit to the incredible performance by Aubrey Plaza that gives Ingrid that basic humanity underneath all the crazy, we never feel truly separate from Ingrid. Through this humanity and the empathy we have for the character, Spicer is able to show us an exaggerated version of ourselves and who we have become in this era of social media.

What makes Plaza’s performance so incredible to me is that, despite rarely seeing who Ingrid truly is, she is able to convey a truly complex character that we can empathize with. Most of what we see is the person and the persona she is trying to be. Her online self is completely taking over her real world body in a very disturbing way. We see Ingrid on Taylor’s profile flit from picture to picture liking every one, trying to position herself as her biggest fan. She reads what Taylor reads, she eats where Taylor eats, she buys what Taylor is advertising; All to fit in and be liked by someone. Yet, there are small glimpses of the real Ingrid throughout, like a scene where she eats something Taylor recommended only to spit it out in favor of some fast food. These small moments allow us to laugh with (and eventually cry with) Ingrid, making it easier to empathize with a person that, admittedly, is doing some pretty messed up things.

At the end of Bo Burnham’s Make Happy, he has an incredible song in which he talks about the relationship he has with his audience and how that relationship has affected him mentally. He says, “Part of me loves you/Part of me hates you. Part of me needs you/Part of me fears you.” This struggle that he has, both his need for approval from his audience and his hatred of that need, is a struggle many younger people seem to have who have grown up with social media. It might not be on quite the scale that Burnham deals with, but I think that Ingrid Goes West reveals that the size doesn’t totally matter.

At the end of the day, the only difference between Ingrid and Taylor is the size of their audience. Both of them are being completely consumed by their online personas, both use the men in their lives for their own selfish reasons and both are just faking it to gain the approval of their audiences. By the end of the film, it becomes clear that Ingrid and Taylor are different sides of the same coin. What is truly terrifying however, is despite the film somewhat souring a positive ending for Ingrid by pointing out the inherent downsides to the attention she receives, there doesn’t seem to be any hope for Taylor. With Ingrid, at least we see glimpses of her true self. But with Taylor, all we ever see is the glamorous front she puts up. Her online persona has completely taken over and blinded her to the problems in her life. The positive for Ingrid, in the end, is Dan (Another great and funny O’Shea Jackson Jr. performance). Unlike Taylor’s boyfriend, who will tell Ingrid of his problems but never truly confront his girlfriend, Dan is honest. He is unabashedly a nerdy, lovable and truthful guy and tells Ingrid the truth throughout the entire film. So while Taylor is being fed what she wants to hear by her audience both in real life and online, Ingrid at least has Dan to tell her the truth.

In its own darkly comedic way, Ingrid Goes West is a reminder that, for all the benefits of social media and the internet, we truly do not know the full psychological effects of this technology. The internet is not just hashtags and memes. There are a lot of mental health issues that are both created by it and exacerbated by it. And many people don’t get as positive an ending as Ingrid’s. This is the true power of Ingrid Goes West and a message that has stayed with me since the credits rolled.