REVIEW: DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014)

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Koba: Caesar weak!
Caesar: Koba weaker.

Director: Matt Reeves

Starring: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Toby Kebbell, Keri Russell, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Gary Oldman

Synopsis: In a dystopian future where genetically advanced Apes now rule the earth, Ape leader Caesar struggles with keeping the peace when a band of human survivors seek shelter and help from the apes.

The last entry into the Planet of the Apes series (for now) which is a direct sequel to 2011’s reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes, as we follow the aftermath of the events from that film. Mankind has fallen due to the virus which Will Rodman (James Franco) developed in Rise. This film is set ten years after the events of Rise and is essentially a remake of 1973’s Battle for the Planet of the Apes (which is a direct sequel to 1972’s Conquest of the Planet of the Apes which was also remade into 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Make sense??) However whether you are a fan of the series or if this is your first ape film to see you will definitely be impressed with this epic tale filled with parallels to Shakespeare’s classic Julius Caesar, as well as modern news headlines including threatening viruses, terrorism, politics, global warming, fear of technology all wrapped up in a sci-fi cgi heavy blockbuster.

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Andy Serkis reprises his role of Caesar from Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Caesar now leads his ape community with his right hand man Koba (played by Toby Kebbell) and Maurice (played by Karin Konoval). In the opening sequence he leads his army into an attack on some deer. This sequence is breathtaking as the camera and sound follow Caesar and his apes into the forest. No dialogue only subtitles showing their communication highlight the sounds of the forest and its slow build-up of suspense and foreboding. The cgi is once again top knotch the geniuses at Weta have again sculpted living, breathing apes with actors portraying them through performance capture technology. Andy Serkis has already become a master in this medium with his iconic performance as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings series however who truly shines in this instalment is Toby Kebbell as the tortured Koba who hates all humans and begins to disagree with his leaders outlook. It is an iconic performance and is easily the best villain of 2014.

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After the opening deer chase a group of humans lead by Malcolm (played by Jason Clarke) cross paths with the apes and seek help in order to bring back electric power to their small community of survivors. Caesar begins to remember the human who helped him as a child and helps out the group of humans in an effort to work and live together in peace. However with all great stories the search for peace isn’t easy and with man and animals nature peace can only exist in short bursts of time. Soon Koba plots to get rid of the humans despite his leaders frame of mind. What ensues is an action packed final battle between the humans and apes.

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This film is brilliant, strong plot, characters, set design, special effects, sound design/soundtrack and direction. It is not an ordinary blockbuster and although previous ape entries have been parallels to our current time this one really gets all the beats right. This is very high on the list of best films of 2014 and also very high on the list of Planet of the Apes films. Strong recommend.

Rating: 4.5 Stars

REVIEW: THE CONJURING (2013)

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Ed Warren: The devil exists. God exists. And for us, as people, our very destiny hinges on which we decide to follow.

Director: James Wan

Starring: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor

Synopsis: The true story of ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren who must help a family deal with paranormal activity in their new home.

The Conjuring directed by James Wan is a classically styled horror film which relies on genuine slowly built frightening sequences and excellent characters to entertain and scare its audience. Unlike other recent horror films which rely on torture (Saw series) or found footage (Paranormal Activity series) to scare its audience, The Conjuring harkens back to the days of masterful suspense by directors like Alfred Hitchcock, John Carpenter and William Friedkin. Wan clearly a fan of these great auteurs gives his film a sense of respectability in not relying on gimmicks to surprise or shock his audience. He relies on mood, sound, atmosphere and a slow feeling of dread that surrounds every moment of this film. He utilises these elements extremely well in developing frightening sequences which admittedly we have seen done before, however he treats the scares with a genuine sense of authenticity and doesn’t pander to his audience. Although the film relies on haunted house and exorcism film genre conventions, Wan injects them with more than what we have seen in recent horror films and this easily excels all others in comparison.

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Wan coming off the respectable horror film, Insidious, and the original Saw is now a genuine horror auteur and has reached his peak with this horror masterpiece. The film centres on the Perron family, father, Roger and mother, Carolyn (both played earnestly by Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) and their five children. They move into a new house and soon begin to hear bump in the night. These early sequences are well choreographed and don’t rely on fake scares like a cat jumping out of the corner, instead cinematographer John R. Leonetti weaves his camera around the house and allows the darkness to creep into the daughter’s bedroom. His camera works wonders in setting up the shocking situation this family will soon be in. We also meet paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren who bring a sense of genuine chemistry to their partnership. Vera Farmiga excels as the tortured Lorraine Warren and Patrick Wilson plays Ed as a protective husband and father, a man willing to help and has a sense of duty to those in need. They meet the Perron’s and immediately sense a demonic presence in their home.

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The film then moves towards its compelling and shocking finale involving an exorcism that matches the original The Exorcist (1973) in its horror and intensity. With excellent acting, direction and cinematography, The Conjuring is perhaps one of the best horror films of the last decade. One which many will be aiming to replicate in our future.

Rating: 4 Stars

REVIEW: RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011)

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Maurice: Hurt bad?
Caesar: You know sign?
Maurice: Circus orangutan.
Maurice: Careful. Humans don’t like smart ape.

Director: Rupert Wyatt

Synopsis: A scientist testing a new drug to cure alzheimer’s uses apes as test subjects. The drug works and one ape named Caesar begins to grow more intelligent…

After 2001’s reboot directed by Tim Burton bombed critically and financially ten years later Fox decided to do another reboot. Only this time they moved away from remaking Planet of the Apes (1968) and made a hybrid prequel/remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972). The one thing that differentiated it from the franchise (and had fanboys quite worried) was the fact that all of the apes would be completely CGI and not men in costumes. Although the one thing everyone praised in Burton’s reboot was the amazing costume design. This film opens in the jungle and provides a far more serious and compelling opening far removed from what we have seen in the past films. Thanks to the geniuses at Weta Digital we have amazing looking apes who look more like they are from a David Attenborough documentary than a Halloween party. The apes look and move exactly as real apes do and this opening is brilliant in showing not only this new universe but also the new tone this film/franchise will go in.

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After the jungle sequence opening we are introduced to Will Rodman (played earnestly by James Franco) who is a scientist experimenting with cures for alzheimers. We quickly learn that Will has a personal stake in this as his father is suffering from the illness (played heartbreakingly by John Lithgow). Will has a lab full of chimps who have been given a serum that increases their intelligence and gives them the IQ of humans. After a presentation goes wrong the experiment is called off and the chimps are all euthanized except for one baby chimp which Will takes into his own care. As weeks go by Will discovers this chimp has the AZL serum in his blood passed down from his mother and shows signs of increased intelligence far superior than any regular ape. The ape also befriends Wills dad, Charles and he names him Caesar based on his love of Shakespeare. The famous Shakespeare play Julius Caesar definitely has parallels to this story.

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As years go by Will begins dating comely Vet Caroline (played by Frieda Pinto) and Caesar grows claustrophobia as an ape with no jungle to explore. He watches outside the attic window at children playing and becomes depressed in his current predicament. Will begins to take him on trips to their local sanctuary where Caesar is able to climb trees and swing from the vines. These sequences are breathtaking and show the scope of the quality of Weta’s special effects. As with every Planet of the Apes film things soon begin to go wrong not only for Caesar but also for Will and Charles who begins to slide further into madness. Caesar ends up in a zoo owned by the nefarious John Landon (played with moustache twirling glee by Brian Cox) and his son Dodge Landon (played by Harry Potter villain Tom Felton). Here Caesar meets Maurice and Rocket and many other apes and begins to find a place among his primates. He soon becomes King due to his advanced intellect. Unfortunately Caesar also learns the evil of men and becomes distrustful of Will and sees his fellow apes as his equals. He rallies them together to rise up from their cages and take over the city. The action and special effects filled sequences that follow are truly breathtaking especially the action on San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge.

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The film is ultimately a tragedy and shows the problems with our modern society between different classes, ethnicities and groups of people. Also the cost of trying to advance science and technology to play God. The film is an allegory for many issues in today’s society and unlike the older Apes films it doesn’t hit you over the head with the obvious subtext. Instead it provides an action filled and at times heartbreaking story of man and ape who lose their way.

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One more thing I need to praise in this film and that is Andy Serkis motion captured performance. After playing Gollum and King Kong in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong, Serkis has made body acting an art form. He is brilliant in this role and brings the ape Caesar to heartbreaking life. You follow his journey and side with his character more so than any human performer. Serkis’ Caesar has become one the greatest CGI characters in the past five years. He is truly a revelation and lifts this film from enjoyable to fantastic.

Rating: 4 Stars

REVIEW: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)

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Gamora: We’re just like Kevin Bacon.

Director: James Gunn

Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper

Synopsis: A disparate team of thieves and bounty hunters join together to save the galaxy from an evil tyrant named Ronan the Accuser.

Review:

The latest blockbuster from Marvel Studios delivers all of the adventure and excitement of their previous comic book adaptations. A fast and enjoyable ride that will push these Marvel characters into the mainstream. The problem is it also doesn’t improve or transcend the genre either. This is not a complaint as this film not only delivers the thrills of the best superhero genre films but also subverts the conventions with quirky humour and a superb soundtrack of 70s and 80s hits. The only problem is that it doesn’t attempt to move beyond what has come before such as this years Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which delivered breathtaking action with excellent character drama. Perhaps it is too soon to compare this film to Captain America TWS because we have gotten to know those characters through multiple films and this is an origin story which ultimately must follow those conventions strictly to gain a wider audience. The inevitable sequel may use its time to delve into the characters further and create a deeper and more realised narrative. However what we have here feels somewhat rushed and fast paced to the point of shallow character development and more emphasis on special effects, action and humour. For the average movie goer this is sufficient for a good time at the movies and although this film is better than most of the blockbusters this year, including The Amazing Spiderman 2 and Transformers: Age of Extinction, it’s not a game changer either.

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The story begins in 1988 with a child named Peter Quill listening to ‘I’m not in Love’ the smooth 80s ballad on his Walkman, while waiting in a hospital preparing to see his ill mother. A heartfelt opening which is perhaps unlike any opening of a Marvel film we have seen. The heartfelt sequence is soon interrupted by Peter running off and randomly being taken by a spaceship. Cut to the future where Peter is a grown man still listening to his Walkman searching for a lost orb on another planet. We can see shades of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars immediately. Director James Gunn quickly subverts the genre with the Indiana Jones looking Chris Pratt dancing around the planet while he looks for the orb. This is a fun film with lots of humorous moments throughout and possibly the closest we’ll get to a great sci-fi comedy in the vein of Ghostbusters. Chris Pratt is almost a lighter Bill Murray. The film quickly gets into the space action and Gunn films it clearly and allows special effects to dazzle the audience. Peter quickly gets introduced to the other members of the team including Gamora (the sexy Zoe Saldana), Rocket, an anthropomorphised raccoon (voiced by a scraggly Bradley Cooper), the dumb and lovable tree, Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and the bulky Drax the Destroyer (played with deadpan humour by professional wrestler, Dave Bautista). The crew come together rather quickly and I didn’t completely buy their immediate friendship based on how they get together. The films biggest fault in my opinion is in their introductions and the fast paced plotting of having them immediately all come together to become friends and ultimately defeat the evil force threatening the world. It’s almost as if the writers thought “Hey, we’ve got a team of badass characters who all have individual quirky traits who need to get together to save the world and then become best friends just like the avengers!” However these characters would have benefitted with more character development in their earlier introduction scenes and also remain individuals by the end. I’m not sure if it was necessary to establish them as a great team by the end because of how independent their backstories are. *Spoiler alert* I have to say I didn’t buy the ending where they all got together to go on another adventure. The film set them up to get together to fight this evil but I didn’t believe that they would always stay together and remain a team because of their pasts. I guess the comic book might have developed the characters better, but I have never read a Guardians of the Galaxy comic and I didn’t quite buy them as a team in this film.

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However these complaints aside I have to say the humour, action set pieces and the characters were all excellent and I did have a great time watching this film. Narrative problems aside this was a fun ride.

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Rating: 3.5 Stars

 

REVIEW: BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (1973)

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The Lawgiver: In the beginning God created beast and man so that both might live in friendship and share dominion over a world of peace. But in the fullness of time evil men betrayed God’s trust and in disobedience to His holy word waged bloody wars, not only against their own kind, but against the apes, whom they reduced to slavery. Then God in his wrath sent the world a saviour, miraculously born of two apes who descended on Earth from Earth’s own future and man was afraid for both parent apes possessed the power of speech.

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Cast: Roddy McDowall, Claude Akins, Natalie Trundy, Austin Stoker

Synopsis: As Cornelius struggles to keep life peaceful between ape and man, a reckless militant gorilla named Aldo pushes war between the remaining humans on earth and the apes.

Review:

A rather underwhelming final chapter to the Planet of the Apes series which began with 1968’s brilliant original starring Charlton Heston. This seventies based series has a complicated history both on and behind the screens. However all of the apes films were popular box office draws for Fox Studios during the seventies, with all of the films directed at families and sci-fi aficionados. The series popularised smart science fiction with social commentary, interesting characters and jaw-dropping twists in each film. Battle for the Planet of the Apes unfortunately ends the series with a whimper. The plot revolves around Cornelius ruling a peaceful society where apes are the superior species and man helps out with laborious chores wearing scrappy torn clothes. Some humans allowed in Cornelius’s close quarters give insight to Cornelius regarding the ethics of society. The film overall looks a lot cheaper than previous entries, with costumes looking at an all-time low with the many apes wondering around the screen. The lighting is often bright and most of the scenes take place during sunny days which doesn’t do favours for the appearance of the apes. Militant gorilla Aldo looks the worst in a clearly plastic mask that doesn’t quite move right when he speaks. Cornelius fares better in his ape costume however also struggles with speech and emotion, unlike previous films where he looked quite good.

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The plot is quite basic and the title is quite misleading as one would expect the apes in an all out war with humans eventually creating the Planet of the Apes that we saw in the original. Instead the plot deals with Cornelius struggling with power and going on a search for his parents lost tapes that they filmed in the previous Escape from the Planet of the Apes. Militant gorilla Aldo causes most of the drama as he dislikes humans mixing with apes and wishes for them all to be destroyed. This leads to an inevitable battle between the apes with unsurprising results.

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Director J. Lee Thompson has lost the innovation he displayed in the previous film, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, which was quite dark and violent in tone. In this film he shoots mostly in the light and creates dull action set pieces that look phony and outdated even for the seventies. Perhaps the worst entry in the entire Planet of the Apes franchise. I would give this a miss and move on to the recent reboots instead.

Rating: 1 Star

*Check out reviews for other films in this series below or follow the links.

REVIEW: CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (1972)

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MacDonald: Caesar… Caesar! This is not how it was meant to be.
Caesar: In your view or mine?
MacDonald: Violence prolongs hate, hate prolongs violence. By what right are you spilling blood?
Caesar: By the slave’s right to punish his persecutor.
MacDonald: I, a decedent of slaves am asking you to show humanity.
Caesar: But, I was not born human.
MacDonald: I know. The child of the evolved apes.
Caesar: Whose children shall rule the earth.
MacDonald: For better or for worse?
Caesar: Do you think it could be worse?
MacDonald: Do you think this riot will win freedom for all your people? By tomorrow…
Caesar: By tomorrow it will be too late. Why a tiny, mindless insect like the emperor moth can communicate with another over a distance of 80 miles…
MacDonald: An emperor ape might do slightly better?
Caesar: Slightly? What you have seen here today, apes on the 5 continents will be imitating tomorrow.
MacDonald: With knives against guns? With kerosene cans against flamethrowers?
Caesar: Where there is fire, there is smoke. And in that smoke, from this day forward, my people will crouch and conspire and plot and plan for the inevitable day of Man’s downfall – the day when he finally and self-destructively turns his weapons against his own kind. The day of the writing in the sky, when your cities lie buried under radioactive rubble! When the sea is a dead sea, and the land is a wasteland out of which I will lead my people from their captivity! And we will build our own cities in which there will be no place for humans except to serve our ends! And we shall found our own armies, our own religion, our own dynasty! And that day is upon you… now!

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Cast: Roddy McDowall, Don Murray, Ricardo Montalban

Synopsis: In a futuristic world that has embraced ape slavery, Caesar, the son of the late simians Cornelius and Zira, surfaces after almost twenty years of hiding out from the authorities, and prepares for a slave revolt against humanity.

Review:

The film begins in a grim looking 1991, with now grown ape, Caesar, discussing the plight of the apes with his owner/mentor Armando (Ricardo Montalban). We discover that since the dogs and cats have been wiped out by a deadly virus, apes have become groomed to replace them as home pets. However as time went on the apes became used as slaves rather than pets. They are used to clean the house, prepare dinner, etc. Eventually they became used for more menial jobs such as janitors, waiters and cleaners. The parallels to the plight of minorities in America are quite heavy handed in these scenes.

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Caesar however who was born from Cornelius and Zira in the previous film has advanced skills and knowledge and has already evolved to a more humanoid ape similar to his parents who were from the future. Caesar eventually has to mix with the common apes and instead of obeying the humans he starts an uprising and gets the apes to fight back and escape their grim current predicament.

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Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is a much more thrilling adventure, darker in tone that the previous film, Escape from the Planet of the Apes. Caesar’s uprising is both shockingly violent and dark considering the film was produced for families. However this helps the film rise above previous instalments and stand on its own as both a prequel and sequel to the original Planet of the Apes. Roddy McDowall excels as Caesar and his impassioned speech in the closing act is perhaps the best scene in the entire franchise.

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With sharp direction from J. Lee Thompson and a thrilling score from Tom Scott, Conquest delivers everything you love about this franchise, social commentary, brilliant action set pieces and many twists and turns.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

REVIEW: TRANSCENDENCE (2014)

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Max Waters: I spent my life trying to reduce the brain to a series of electrical impulses. I failed. Human emotion, it can contain illogical conflict. Can love someone, and yet hate the things they have done. Machine can’t reconcile that.

Evelyn Castor: Can you?

Max Waters: Yes.

 

Director: Wally Pfister

Cast: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy

Synopsis: A scientist developing a new form of AI technology is shot at a conference. With only moments left to live he uploads his consciousness into his new technology as his wife helps him develop into a new form of artificial intelligence.

Review

A promising plot somewhat similar to last year’s Spike Jonze sci-fi drama ‘Her’, this film unfortunately doesn’t quite reach those heights. Opening with the clichéd narrative trope of the bleak ending we then rewind five years earlier to Johnny Depp’s Will Caster introducing his new technology PINN to a crowd of funders and fans of his work. We are also introduced to his wife Evelyn Castor (Rebecca Hall) who loves him and supports his work. A terrorist cell is also introduced that don’t want technology and computers to advance (for reasons unknown). One of the terrorists shoot Will with a poisonous bullet that makes him slowly die over the next few days. Will wishes to upload his consciousness into his new program and show the world how much his program will change the world.

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What follows is an over complicated clichéd story of the ghost in the machine. We have seen this before in 1993’s Ghost in the Machine and 1995’s Ghost in the Shell and I’m sure countless other science fiction films. This one doesn’t bring anything new to the genre with a plot that is filled with ambition but nowhere to go and a rather lifeless (pun intended) performance from Johnny Depp. This film had a lot of promise with the directorial debut of Christopher Nolan’s go to cinematographer Wally Pfister. The film’s visual composition is as beautiful as Nolan’s Inception and The Dark Knight however he could have used Nolan’s help with the narrative progression. Rebecca Hall and Paul Bettany also turn in great performances.

Rating: 2.5 Stars

 

REVIEW: ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES (1971)

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“Wedded” – Angry priest after discovering future apes got married.

Director: Don Taylor

Cast: Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Bradford Dillman

Synopsis: After crash landing on earth, Zira, Cornelius and Dr Milo discover a planet ruled by humans.

Review:

After the shocking finale of Beneath the Planet of the Apes, this film had nowhere to go but the time travel route. With shades of Lost Season 5 and Austin Powers this film mixes smart sci-fi with inane comedy.

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The film opens with a spacecraft drifting in the sea. Soon we discover that Cornelius, Zira and (new ape?) Dr Milo have crash-landed on earth in the past, prior to the rise of the planet of the apes. Their destination is in fact the 1970s, with the retro funky soundtrack and comedic tone this franchise has found itself in a new direction, one vastly different to the two films preceding it. It is not for the better, nor the worst, merely an interesting side trip with two characters we have learnt to love over the past installments. From the opening scenes we can see that the ape costume design and make-up effects don’t translate as well in a modern setting away from the post-apocalyptic ape future. Also the apes find themselves in a predicament that is a stark contrast of how the characters were treated in the previous films.

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Zira and Cornelius discover that humans once ruled the earth and find themselves trapped in a zoo only to be tested on and researched. Although not as violently as Charlton Heston’s Taylor was in the original. Soon the two apes are welcomed into society and are the talk of the town as everyone wishes to get to know these two apes.

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Their welcome is soon turned to darker terrain as Dr Hasslein (Eric Braeden), fears for his planets future as Zira confesses how the ape war ended.

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This is smart sci-fi, only it’s mixed with silly humour and obnoxious characters that it can’t succeed as the previous films did. With its lack of action and twists, the film is enjoyable however after the last two entries it fails to rise above.

Rating: 2 Stars