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

Standard

dawn_of_the_planet_of_the_apes_poster_a_p

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.

XXX DAWN-PLANET-APES-MOV-JY-3806-.JPG A ENT

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.

Dawn-of-the-Planet-of-the-Apes-Film

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.

Dawn-of-the-Planet-of-the-Apes-Wallpaper

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)

Standard

246460id1c_Conjuring_INTL_27x40_1Sheet.indd

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.

THE CONJURING

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.

the-conjuring (1)

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)

Standard

rise-of-the-planet-of-the-apes

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.

rise-of-the-planet-of-the-apes-movie-image-011-600x333

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.

640px-Will_&_Caesar

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.

Rise-of-Planet-of-the-Apes-600x335

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.

lice

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)

Standard

18b149286ca6f2920e017bd5d2ffcbf5

 

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.

 Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-team

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.

 Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-Movie-Photo-Gamora-Concerned-Close-up

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.

 Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-Preview-Rocket-Raccoon-www.scifiempire.net_

Rating: 3.5 Stars

 

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

Standard

battleplanetofapes

 

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.

 battlefortheplaent1080_2_large

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.

 battleforpota12749

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.