Rise of the Planet of the Apes

One of the oldest formulas for stories – maybe even the single oldest, considering The Epic of Gilgamesh and so forth – is of a familiar world that encounters a strange world, and the clash between the two that is resolved at the end. If you think about it, most stories are about this in one way or another – after all, stories are about people who think in different ways, and coming from different worlds is an easy way to explain why they would do that.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is about the most literal form of this story formula in a long time: It’s the post-apocalypse. There’s a deadly virus about, that kills people but grants apes superintelligence, and the apes’ civilization is flourishing as the humans’ is falling. There we go – two worlds, which obviously would think in different ways since they’re literally different species. Even with this, though, there’s a twist to the premise – the familiar world is the apes’, and the strange one is the humans’.
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I used to dress just like Chris Evans. Proud of those days, but not of my fashion sense.

Writing now, as the Internet’s dork and film-buff circles still tremble from the thundering impact of Mad Max: Fury Road, it can be easy to forget the slower-paced but far more transformative impact of its big brother, The Road Warrior.

In 1981, when the world was introduced to Max Rockatansky, his pet dog, and the post-civilized desert they wandered, it presented a view of the future exactly bleak enough to capture the popular consciousness. With the burgeoning environmentalist movement telling us that the world was doomed one way, the omnipresent threat of a mutual loss in the Cold War threatening another, and the (not actually very prescient) warnings of George Orwell and Ray Bradbury giving us an even more terrifying view of what what would happen if civilization did survive, the genre of post-apocalyptic fiction was just what the world needed.

Yes, civilization may be destroyed. Yea, the seven seals may be broken and the earth may be salted forever more, but people will persevere. Not everyone will survive (though I definitely will, each resident of the nascent “Me decade” said to themselves), but those that do will live out their dreams. They’ll live clean and free, making simple and happy lives for themselves despite the many obstacles in their way.
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X-Men: Days of Future Past

In the last century, movies have become universal standards in every aspect of our culture. One of the most interesting examples of this, though, is style.

Costuming and styling in film is a criminally underappreciated art. Almost every single big, culturally important film takes place in a world different from our own. I don’t necessarily mean space or the past or anything, but a world where things are just different enough to allow the main characters to be the way they are, and for the story to do the things it does. And costuming is an essential part of that – while our characters are doing important story things, their dress allows you to tell the story of who they are and where they come from without pausing for a minute or even interrupting the action at all.

I say this because the costuming of X-Men: Days of Future Past is not some of the best there is in recent memory, but it’s also very close to my heart. You see, the young Prof. Charles Xavier (probably my single favorite comic-book superhero), who is probably the most main of the movie’s four or five main characters, spends the clear majority of this movie looking eerily similar to me.

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Wolfenstein: The New Order

Ah, the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. In a vacuum, it would look pretty normal as 20th century political movements went. To a nation ravaged by war, it would make sense to adopt a fiercely xenophobic and expansionist attitude, to reclaim the land that once had been theirs in the mists of history (That’s where “Third Reich” comes from – the first was Rome, and the second was the less powerful and vestigial Holy Roman Empire largely consolidated in Crusade-era Germany). And given the similar outlook Mussolini and Franco had had at the time, it’s easy to see why the two would join forces with the Germans, and why the initial passive ideal of lebensraum (living space) would largely be forgotten as the ideological pressure built up around the “Rome-Berlin Axis”.

But if there’s anything that shouldn’t be considered in a vacuum it’s history, even history that’s so been so exaggerated and mythologized by Euro-American culture. The frothing sea of Nazism that spilled over the sides of Germany into Belgium and Poland like the head of a stein of beer was an entirely different sort of beast to that relatively normal political movement. With America ravaged by depression and Europe by a cat’s cradle of treaties and agreements left over from the end of the last war, the Nazis were something to unite everyone in hatred, and were probably among the last things that could ever be treated that way in an increasingly fragmented and free-speaking world.

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On Recent Deaths

death I have way more pride than is good for me sometimes. For instance, I’ve always stuck to my guns pretty rigidly when it comes to my one year gap and my lack of any content besides SF/F reviews of stuff I care about, for no good reason other than the title would sort of ring hollow for me otherwise. But within a month, three luminaries in their fields have died: legendary wit Terry Pratchett, legendary actor Leonard Nimoy, and also Sam Simon, the unknown driving force behind one of the most legendary works of our time. And it’s clear that The Grim Reaper cares about pride about as much as he does anything else.

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Robocop (2014)

Let’s get one thing off the table here: Whatever I think of this movie I’m reviewing, there’s one completely objective issue I’m going to run into: It has the exact same title as the popular 1987 movie of which it is a remake. This makes discussion hard. So henceforth, I will call the original “RoboCop” – since, after all, it was made in the faraway mists of time when you were allowed to use CamelCase without leading your Wikipedia entry to ruin and misfortune. Conversely, the remake we’re talking about here will be “Robocop”. I’m sure that won’t create any problems.

A year later, there’s not a whole lot of love or hate for Robocop, passable little SF and action-tinged social commentary that it is. The consensus seems to be that remaking RoboCop was a bad idea in the first place since it was so good, but I think that’s not looking far enough into why that is.

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Sherlock: The Sign of Three

So, the new Sherlock TV show. Not to be confused with the new Sherlock Holmes TV show, Elementary, which actually isn’t that bad if you sit down and watch it. Its opening sequence is a dozen times better, for a start – am I really the only one who completely despises that loud, tuneless rock track that Sherlock has?

But yeah, Sherlock, the one with Martin Freeman of Hitchhiker’s Guide, and that very British, very popular, very tall institution that I’ll just call “Big Ben” from here on out. It’s hard for me to state a single opinion on Sherlock. On one hand, it has a blisteringly high entertainment value, with top-notch acting, stylish presentation, witty and clever interplay between consistent and well-developed characters, excellent adaptation of the classic stories I’ve read many times…

On the other hand, I can’t bring myself to call myself a Sherlock fan, because that invariably associates me with Big Ben’s legions of squealing ladies (and quite a few cheering men; I am nothing if not tolerant in my vaguely hypocritical condescension). The fans have been responsible for most of the worst moments in the show, most of which have been in the most recent, third season – and yet that also had most of my favorite moments in the series too, so I’m not sure what to think.

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It’s obvious I have a comfort zone – just look at what I do and don’t talk about. Don’t expect a review of The Wolf of Wall Street (which was great but too long), or American Hustle (a directionless romp) or Dallas Buyers Club (I’ve never liked Jared Leto) here.

But at the center of this comfort zone, probably my favorite single subgenre, is social science fiction. Started in the twenties with stuff like Metropolis and codified by only science fiction writer ever Isaac Asimov, social SF is such a rich genre because it can basically be summed up as “A more mainstream and conventional story, but with robots, or lasers, or aliens, or laser-wielding alien robots”. It makes for all sorts of good stories because it can appeal to both mainstream audiences with exaggerations of basic dramatic situations, and dorks like myself with supremely dorky analysis and extrapolation of classic SF concepts.

Whatever you think of Her, by child-at-heart and friend of the Beastie Boys Spike Jonze, it’s just about the gold standard for modern social SF – if you took out the future stuff it would be a weepy, Oscar-bait-laden romantic drama, but with it the movie becomes an Oscar winner, critically and popularly lauded, and my pick for best picture of the year for whatever it’s worth.

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Now, I don’t like to think of myself as very conceited. So I can’t really say that these reviews are very important to anyone but me – heck, I consider two dozen views a pretty big amount any time I post one of these things. But reviewing Frozen a year later? I would be the first to admit that it’s now pointless.

Frozen is what I like to call a Classic Of Our Times. As I was watching it in the theater, my negative Nancy tendencies pointed me to all sorts of story problems, inconsistent characters, unfortunate implications, and bad musical decisions…but all that time, I was also sitting there thinking what an amazing movie it was. That’s how you can tell: Flawed movies can be classics of our times (Inception and Fight Club spring to mind) if those flaws don’t detract from your enjoyment of it because of how well done everything else is.

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Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor

This, folks, is the big moment. The reckoning.

“The Day of the Doctor”, the film-length 50th anniversary special of Doctor Who, written by the deeply passionate and idiosyncratic showrunner Steven Moffat, who had really lost his golden touch when it came to his mixture of horror, comedy, and emotional drama since the beginning of the season.

This had the potential to be horrible. Not only did the big hook of the episode – introducing a “Forgotten regeneration” of the Doctor played by the legendary John Hurt – irrevocably retcon the last decade of the show, but the episode would be about the Last Great Time War, the mind-bending universal holocaust which Moffat’s predecessor adamantly stated they “could never show on screen”, because how do you show a war fought with time as a weapon, in boring old causal 3-dimensional space?

And yet, I thought it was good. No, I absolutely loved it. And initially, I wasn’t quite sure why, but after some thought I think I’ve figured it out:

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