Monthly Archives: August 2011

Review: Seven Days in May (1964)

What if the US military couldn’t get behind a Command in Chief who supported a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Russians and instead planned a coup so that it could replace the “dove” president with its own “hawk” leader, General Scott (Burt Lancaster)?

The thoughtful and disturbing film Seven Days in May, written by Fletcher Knebel, Charles Bailey II and Rod Serling, and directed by The Manchurian Candidate director John Frankenheimer explores just this scenario and it’s a doozy of a film where you’re never sure whether Colonel Jiggs Casey (Kirk Douglas) is paranoid, spinning a fantasy about nothing more than a military exercise scheduled for a few days in the future or blowing a whistle on a carefully planned, widely supported military coup.
What most interests me about Seven Days in May is its snapshot of the paranoia of the Cold War era, where the enemy — the Soviet Union — was big, powerful, well-armed and dangerous and where a single nuclear missile could change the balance of world power and spark World War III. It was a dark time in history and comparing it to the abstract psychological war that we’re facing now with the suicide bombers and terrorists who have infiltrated our society, it’s amazing to see the clarity, the black-and-white situations that are no longer part of the military equation.
And back in 1964 when the film came out, were there thousands of troops secretly training at a military base known as ECOMCON to overthrow the government? As Casey explains to President Lyman (Fredric March) part-way through the film, he thinks the troops will be deployed to Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Utah. “Why Utah?” “The telephone company has important relays for all its long lines going through Utah, sir.”
Could we ever see a military overthrow of the government? You’ll have to watch this dark and frightening movie to find out.

Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

rise planet of the apes one sheetWhat if there was a research drug in the laboratory right now that had a good chance of curing Alzheimer’s but it needed more testing on animals before it could be released for human trials? And what if that same neurogenesis drug made its research subjects smarter? That’s the premise of the exciting and surprisingly thoughtful Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Will Rodman (James Franco) is the lead genetic researcher working on the miracle drug for Gen Sys Corporation, but he has a driving motivation of his own: his father (John Lithgow) is rapidly descending into dementia.

Clinical trials for the ALZ-112 drug go well, but when they inadvertently treat a pregnant chimpanzee then separate her from her newborn, she goes on a rampage and the project is shut down. Except for Caesar, the baby chimp who Rodman takes home to prevent it being killed. Caesar turns out to be an extraordinarily intelligent chimp but after an incident where he attacks a neighbor who was assaulting the now-cured father he’s sent to monkey jail, the San Bruno Primate Shelter.
Not only does Caesar not like the primate shelter, but is also constantly taunted by malevolent employee Dodge Landon (Tom Felton). Enough is enough, and he escapes, steals some of the more powerful ALZ-113 from Rodman’s house then goes back and exposes the hundred or so primates at the Shelter to the drug.  The stage is set and the monkeys break out en masse.
The original 1968 Planet of the Apes is an iconic science fiction film, with imagery notably including Colonel Taylor (Charlton Heston) finding a half-buried Statue of Liberty on a beach in the monkey-dominated future Earth. I’d always wondered what happened for that to transpire and Rise of the Planet of the Apes does a good job of explaining, even through some vital information the happens in the last two or three minutes of the film.
I really enjoyed the new film and found it mostly plausible. Director Rupert Wyatt has captured the essence of the San Francisco setting and produced many iconic images of his own, including when the angry simians encounter SFPD on the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s fun. Go see it.

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