A Quiet Place

I missed yet another theatrical sci-fi movie. The trailers for Annihilation made the movie look like kind of a dumb monster flick, so I didn't rush out to go see it. I only started to hear several weeks later that it might actually be a pretty good sci-fi film. Unfortunately, life happened, my weekends were busy, and I never made it out to the cinema to see it.

So instead, I was invited to see a new horror movie with some friends. A Quiet Place is also a monster flick, but its novel gimmick really helps to set it apart from other monster movies. The gimmick itself isn't even particularly original. Other movies have featured monsters that are especially sensitive to sound. It's the execution of A Quiet Place that sets it apart.

Much like last year's exceptional War for the Planet of the Apes, A Quiet Place's dialogue comes mostly in the form of subtitled sign language, which the family of protagonists already knows because the oldest child (Millicent Simmonds) is deaf. This leads to the movie being palpably quiet for most of its runtime. I say "most" because there's a few moments of punctuated loudness that work effectively. There's also quite a few moments in which artificially-loud noises, sound effects, and musical ques are used to create cheap jump scares.

That last bit was disappointing because when A Quiet Place is cleverly using its sound design to ratchet up tension, it works phenomenally. This comes through most clearly with the deaf daughter. The movie goes almost completely silent whenever it switches to her point of view, with a faint, high-pitched static being the only sound you'll hear. When this is combined with some depth of field effects that make it hard to see clearly what's going on, it really helps to sell the sense of powerlessness and lack of awareness of the character, which ratchets up the tension for the audience.

The daughter is deaf, so the family already knows sign language, and use it throughout the movie.

The diagetic loud noises, such as the toy space shuttle or knocking over the lamp at the beginning of the movie work really well to punctuate the silence and create momentary panic. It's when lazy, cliche horror movie sounds start to come into play that things start to feel cheap. I'm not sure whether to blame this on actor/director John Krasinski, or on producer Michael Bay. I lean towards the latter. It doesn't ruin the movie, but it does weaken it a little...

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War for the Planet of the Apes

Once again, I am amazed by just how good this new Planet of the Apes franchise is. Both of the previous movies (Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) were my favorite movies of their respective years. War for the Planet of the Apes would probably also be this year's hands-down favorite if it didn't have to compete with Logan.

The most amazing and surprising thing is just how unlike a "summer Hollywood blockbuster" this summer Hollywood blockbuster looks and feels. These movies have, as their premise, an apocalyptic world-changing event, but yet the writers and directors manage to avoid the traps of making an apocalyptic movie. The stories and conflicts are always very personal and feel small-scale and low-key compared to the events going on around them. The focus of the movies also increasingly shifts away from the human characters and towards the ape characters.

The previous movie went a good 20 or 30 minutes without any dialogue at all, as its first act focused on the ape characters who use sign language as the dominant form of communication. War goes even further, as the majority of the dialogue throughout the entire movie comes in the form of subtitled sign language between otherwise speechless ape characters. It's a surprisingly quiet movie with a very minimalist sound design. As such, anyone speaking anywhere in the theater is a huge distraction, so hopefully you don't get stuck sitting next to anybody who feels they have to narrate everything they're seeing to the companion next to them. You know who you are! Asshole...

War for the Planet of the Apes - soldiers captured
Most of the dialogue is in the form of sign language and gestures between ape characters.

... Same goes for the scum-bag who sat in the front row and then spent the entire third act checking his phone -- without even bothering to dim the brightness. You're in the front row! Everyone in the theater can see your phone glowing under the screen!

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - forest meeting
Another good movie in a good year of movies!

This year has been a real treat for my movie sensibilities! Usually, a given year might have one or two high-quality movies that stand above the rest of the dumb summer popcorn flicks. But it's not even August yet, and I've already seen five really good movies. The year started off well with the quirky, sci-fi romance story Her (which I meant to review, but never got around to it). Then, Captain America Winter Soldier turned out to be an exceptional super hero spy thriller. I already reviewed X-Men Days of Future Past and Edge of Tomorrow - both of which I also really liked!

So far, the only disappointment has been the poorly-written Amazing Spider-Man 2 (but this was kind of to be expected, thanks Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci). I also have no interest in Transformers 4 or Ninja Turtles, since those both look like standard Michael Bay garbage.

And so we come to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a sequel to the prequel / reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Rise was a surprisingly good movie that did an excellent job of humanizing a CGI monkey. Dawn picks up ten years after the last movie ended. The virus that James Franco's character created in the lab as a potential treatment for Alzheimer has spread to the rest of the population and almost wiped out the human race, leaving only the small fraction of people that are genetically resistant to it.

The whole first act of the movie doesn't include a single human character at all, or even any dialogue. Instead, it depicts the ape characters and their culture and social structure, and it really helps to build up the apes as sympathetic characters...

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