Showing posts with label racism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label racism. Show all posts

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) 2.5 of 4

** this post has spoilers on the first four films in the (original) Planet of the Apes series **

I find the first three films in this series easier to watch than the last two.  I've been putting them off, and now that I've seen this one again, I think I know where the series went wrong. 

Of course, the Planet of the Apes cycle turns the social and political tensions of the Vietnam era into  provocative science fiction.  In the first three films, we learn that this ape-planet is Earth of the far future; then we see the planet destroyed; then we see two intelligent apes escape back in time, destined to start the ascendance of the apes in the first place.

Each of these films creates its own identity.  Planet of the Apes is an elaborately-produced, groundbreaking, black-humored science fiction parable with an all-time twist at the end.  Beneath the Planet of the Apes is more of a comic-book movie, driven by shock value and visual ideas, including the franchise's apocalypse chic.  Escape from the Planet of the Apes makes the drama more domestic, emphasizing satire and comedy of manners. 

As it becomes a more specific parallel to race relations in the U.S., the series makes the delayed confession it was humanity's own fault they lost control of their planet.   As Conquest opens, we see Caesar (Roddy McDowell), the lone intelligent ape in the near-future, separated from his kind protector (Ricardo Montalban) and left to the cruelty of human slavers.  By the midpoint of Conquest, the viewer fully sympathizes with the apes. 

The humans, led by Governor Breck (Don Taylor), are cowardly, deceitful, and cruel, having made their once-pets into a new slave class.  Even McDonald, Breck's black deputy, ultimately gives up on mitigating extremes and helps Caesar.  As we side with the apes, the air leaks out of the series, because there's no further need for the thorny metaphors of social sci-fi.  The movie may be an accurate depiction of human nature (and white guilt), but now it's just another underdog story about battle tactics.

Given the above, the film still works pretty well, making great use of futuristic, found locations (apparently Century City in L.A.), and night shoots.  The cast does what they can with schematic material; I found myself wishing an Oscar nomination for Roddy McDowall, who all but carries the film, and from behind a mask.  J. Lee Thompson directs well, but missed the mark by not having the apes use their unique abilities in battle: why not find a location with handholds and have the apes descend on the human troops?   And while it's nice to see the original, downbeat ending restored, it still lacks irony, previously the hallmark of the series.

In retrospect, I feel the white creators of Conquest took the easy way out, siding with a fictional slave revolt.  In reality, separatists such as the Black Panthers were soon suppressed by American security, using some of the dirtiest tactics in national history, and the legal system resorted to tortured compromises such as Affirmative Action and school busing.  Race relations bogged down into a tug-of-war, part of the broader struggle known as political polarization.

It's fascinating that this intelligent film series ran out of challenging ideas at the same time Americans settled into their indefinite stalemate. 


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Monster's Ball (2001) 1.5 of 4

EDIT 21 June, 2015: I wrote this review before knowing much about the recent madness in Charleston, S.C.  I apologize for the poor timing, especially to anyone who's read before this edit.  (I'm 50, and the realities of digital media don't come easily to me; I tend to forget how easy it is to edit the blog, for example.) 
These remain my views on the film, but right now they are trivial at best. 

The sitcom 30 Rock once did an episode in which Tracy Morgan's character made a "serious" movie, a piece of  autobiographical Oscar-bait about his troubled childhood.  This way-over-the-top film-within-a-film seemed to be a parody of the then-current movie Precious, the biopic about a young black woman who's been horribly abused for years.  Though I was a fan of 30 Rock at the time, I remember thinking the parody unkind. 
Precious was directed by Lee Daniels, who'd already co-produced Monster's Ball, and would go on to the current TV hit Empire.   Now that I've seen both those films, I can see exactly where 30 Rock was coming from.  At least Precious was apparently based on a true story, whereas Monster's Ball is just shameless manipulation, piling on misfortunes as if terrified we'll stop taking it seriously. 

Lee Daniels also put his name in front of The Butler.  All of these movies and more (The Help, 42) seem best suited for suburban white people, for guilt mitigation.  These movies do everything but take my hand and say, "Now you hush, chile.  Ain't nothin' to be afeared of , 'cause black folk is jus' folk, jus' like you."

** major spoilers ahead **

Monster's Ball was showered with awards, but to me this just proves again that certain topics paralyze the critical faculties: the Holocaust, race in America.  It's the story of a prison guard (Billy Bob Thornton) who falls in love with Halle Berry, after helping to execute Halle's ex-husband (Sean Combs), who'd abused her.  The guard had a racist upbringing, but fortunately both of their sons die violent deaths (within days of each other), which is quite an ice-breaker, and before you know it we get some admittedly steamy, interracial sex scenes. 

So yes, this is an interracial love story.  Barely.  It seems to me that a racist redneck finding redemption in the arms of Halle Berry is like the person who claims they can't be anti-Semitic because they love Jesus.
Then again, this movie was made in 2001, when we were all more innocent.