Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

images

DIR: Matt Reeves  WRI: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver   PRO: Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver  DOP: Michael Seresin   ED: William Hoy, Stan Salfas   DES: James Chinlund MUS: Michael Giacchino   CAST: Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Andy Serkis

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes reflects the sub-textual social commentary of another Dawn, George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978). Both movies are genre pieces with a simple, yet visionary premise oozing with fantastic mythology. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes wouldn’t be the enormous 2014 summer blockbuster of course, without the original spark that created the franchise in Pierre Boulle’s novel and the 1968 picture.

 

The primary Planet of the Apes film established the imagination and underlying social commentary, but was portrayed in a charming and playful manner. The latest installments Rise of the Planet of the Apes and now Dawn, surpass the original series in a far more visceral and intimate dimension.

 

Andy Serkis returns to play the protagonist chimpanzee Caesar. He astonished audiences in Rise with his humane and at times, threatening performance. He left viewers speechless with his “NOOOO!!!’ exclamation to Draco Malfoy. In Dawn, Serkis continues his dynamic skills and expands the character to that of…well a Caesar, leader of the apes and father of two. In one shot he can get the audience’s empathy level jacked, and with a quick change of facial expression or way of breathing he can evoke fear and intimidation.  The special FX crew have out-done themselves again, but the CGI can not take full credit for his virtuoso performance.

 

Ten years have passed since the apes crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and developed their own society in the Muir Woods. They inhabit the rough terrain and weather, oddly reminiscent of McCabe and Mrs Miller (1971). When the human protagonist, Malcolm (Jason Clarke) makes his way up to the apes in his duster coat and hat, I thought Warren Beatty survived that blizzard.

 

It’s not planet of the apes yet, as the Simian Virus has not wiped out all mankind. However, this worldwide epidemic has left this band of survivors in desperate need of fuel and power. Inevitably these two bands of humans and apes cross paths and tensions rise. As these two camps pursue in diplomatic debate, we the audience are witness to themes of hierarchy, family, politics, war, peace and most overwhelming, fear.

 

Fear is what drives the plot, causing weak individuals to make rash decisions in order to protect themselves and their ideals. The apes’ side of this story is far more intriguing, and it’s hard not to be reminded of the Roman era or Greek tragedy when we look at their political activities. Caesar’s leadership and choices are scrutinized by the apes, who see him as a human sympathizer. There’s an assassination attempt on his life, which mirrors that of JFK, Martin Luther King or Malcolm X. The weakness in the story is the bland and passionless human performances, and maybe that’s intentional as the film really focuses on the advancement of ape society. For instance, the superb performance by John Lithgow as a man in the depths of Alzheimers and the relationship between Will and Caesar in Rise conjured our emotions and forced us to care about them. In Dawn, Gary Oldman’s Dreyfus is tame and practically absent for most of the feature. A conversation between Malcolm’s son, Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Ellie (Kerri Russel) about her dead daughter possesses the emotional capacity of a doorstop. We find ourselves aching for the apes to obliterate them. The only decent human performance comes from Jason Clarke, who expresses desperation.

 

The subtext concentrates on diplomatic decisions and actions during times of tension or war, naturally not giving us any solution or insight, but basically claiming that on any side there will always be come bad seeds there to help create fear and paranoia. Christopher Nolan attempted a similar theme in his 2008 superhero genre The Dark Knight, where he focused on the nature of terrorist demands and how society reacts to them.

 

Rest assured, if you’re not part of some liberal hippy commune and just want a good old action flick, you are in luck because impending violence and bloodshed does erupt in spectacular fashion. This is mainly due to fluid camera movement with a few excellent tracking shots and tank POV similar to the dizzying camera twirl at Carrie’s prom, which also suggested a situation spinning out of control and an aura of impending doom. Location is a major factor of the movie and its action making the shots of the apes swinging from the Golden Gate seem instantaneously iconic.

 

Dawn doesn’t come without it flaws though. Near the end we see Malcolm take two steps away from a big C-4 explosion and somehow survive. Now I’m not a doctor, but I seriously think that his hair shouldn’t have looked right after that. And it’s not just the logistics of it that grinded my gears, it’s the fact that the filmmakers Frenched out of killing off the “good guy” in order to give the movie a sentimental ending. It would have been far more moving and interesting for Caesar if Malcolm had died a martyr rather than a rehash of the previous film’s conclusion. For Planet of the Apes enthusiasts it will lack the mythological intrigue and backstory plot of its predecessor, but realistically we couldn’t expect the same thing.

 

Despite this, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes remains one of the most enjoyable experiences you will have at the cinema this year exceeding in style and scope. It’s exciting to see where the filmmakers will take it to next, how far into the future? Will they migrate to another city or country? Could they make it a camp romp like the originals? One thing is sure, we all want to see what becomes of Caesar.

 

Cormac O’Meara

12A (See IFCO for details)
130 mins

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is released on 18th July 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – Official Website

Share

Cinema Review: Robocop

robocop_2282286b

DIR: José Padilha • WRI: Joshua Zetumer • PRO: Marc Abraham, Gary Barber, Brad Fischer, Mike Medavoy, Arnold Messer, Eric Newman • DOP: Lula Carvalho • ED: Peter McNulty, Daniel Rezende • MUS: Pedro Bromfman • DES: Martin Whist  CAST: Joel Kinnaman, Douglas Urbanski, Abbie Cornish, Gary Oldman

It’s the near-future. American drone warfare abroad is now the norm but back home the American people are reluctant to let un-feeling robots protect their streets. The head of OCP Raymond Sellers (Keaton) decided to grease the political wheels back home by creating a human/robot hybrid to prove to the American people that his products can be trusted and thus open up the lucrative home market. To this end he brings in Dr Norton (Oldman) to turn fatally-wounded hero-cop Alex Murphy (Kinnaman) into the titular Robocop.

First of all, it’s worth laying a few cards on the table. I. Love. The original Robocop. It’s a genuine classic and one of the few films that I loved as a kid which has only gotten better the older I’ve gotten and been able to appreciate the political satire more, etc. So with that in mind, Robocop did not need to be remade. It still works just as well now as it did then and as such I’ve been eagerly awaiting this remake for some time, looking at the discussions online and sharpening my knives accordingly. In no uncertain terms, I expected, nay, wanted to hate this film. So with that in mind… It’s actually rather good. And no one is more surprised by that than me.

Now, it’s by no means without criticism but even the areas that could be considered failings in an odd way contribute to what makes it good. Take for example Robocop himself. Despite the film being about him, it’s not really ‘about’ him. Far more time is spent focusing on the rest of the characters and how the very existence of Robocop affects them and the various ethical and existential quandaries that arise. In fitting with one of the main themes of the movie, Robocop himself just isn’t important. In the story he’s a political and social tool being pushed and pulled by various factions toward their own means. And on a story level he is merely a protagonist-MacGuffin being moved around to help explore the film’s themes. This is very much a positive because Robocop is neither interesting nor particularly well-acted (Kinnaman is serviceable but hardly compelling, trying to hang a whole movie on him would have been appalling).

On top of this the action scenes, what few of them there are, do little to excite. They’re all very flashy and fast-paced but there are only really two that I felt stood out; the night-vision fight in the warehouse and the grand finale fight against the ED-209s. Again though, despite this being a failing on one level, it balances out in the long run as more time is spent focusing on the rest of the ensemble cast and their far more interesting discussions and debates. In this sense Gary Oldman’s Norton is probably the true main character as the morally conflicted scientist tasked with bringing Robocop into the world and seeing how it affects both Murphy himself and his family. Michael Keaton also gets far more screen-time than expected as the ‘evil’ capitalist and nominal villain of the piece. As ever Keaton is excellent, once again proving that it’s a crying shame he doesn’t get more work.

Add to this some gorgeous art direction and set-design and an impressive level of attention to detail in terms of the subtler aspects of the world-building and you’re presented with a surprisingly cohesive film that does an excellent job of portraying a near-future America. There are no hover-cars or lasers, just a lot more touch-screens and camera-surveillance, while every interior has a crisp, clean, Apple-store sheen to it. The one aspect that does fall short, however, is the score; it’s barely audible and rather bland especially in the action scenes. Additionally while it’s admirable that they tried to keep the original theme music, the effort was misguided as it simply doesn’t fit with the more modern aesthetic. Yet the film does have considerably more fun with the licenced music it uses, employing an eclectic but very enjoyable variety of older music up to and including a song from The Wizard of Oz.

One of the more contentious issues the remake has faced since its announcement has been whether or not it would have the same level of political satire that the original is so fondly remembered for. To that end the argument could definitely be made that this film is going over very similar ground to The Dark Knight and doesn’t really have much new to say in its analysis of Post-9/11 America. The main difference is that Robocop has significantly more fun while doing it and, unlike the borderline cowardice of Nolan’s very non-committal approach to taking political sides, Robocop has a clear liberal leaning and milks it satirising of the Conservatives generally, and the Right Wing media in particular, for all its worth. This is where Sam Jackson comes into it and let’s just say the filmmakers know how to use Sam Jackson.

To be clear, this is still a remake of a film that did not need to be remade. That said if it was going to happen anyway, this is the kind of remake all remakes should strive toward being. Unlike a film such as the recent (equally pointless) Oldboy remake, Robocop does not let its reverence for the original undermine the necessity for innovation that’s required to update a film in this way. The satire is prevalent and funny, the world-building demonstrates far more care and attention to detail than many recent blockbusters (*cough* Elysium *cough*) and on the whole given how delightfully over the top and cartoonish the original was, it’s a very pleasant surprise that this film has turned out to be as ideas-focused as it has, coming as it does at the expense of the action scenes. While the lead actor/character may be the weak-link in the chain, this is much more of an ensemble piece than the original and as such doesn’t suffer too badly from that.

So it would appear that the long-despised remake of Robocop has turned out to be actually pretty decent. Were the reference still topical, I’d almost claim the Mayans must be right.

Richard Drumm

12A (See IFCO for details)
117 mins

Robocop is released on 7th February 2014

Robocop– Official Website

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INmtQXUXez8

Share

Cinema Review: Lawless

DIR: John Hillcoat • WRI: Nick Cave  • PRO: Michael Benaroya, Megan Ellison, Lucy Fisher, Douglas Wick • DOP: Benoît Delhomme • ED: Dylan Tichenor • DES: Chris Kennedy • CAST: Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman

Writer Nick Cave and director John Hillcoat, who previously worked together on the impressively oppressive The Proposition, reunite for this very cinematic, highly entertaining, but quite uneven truth-based tale of Prohibition-era Robin Hoods, the Bondurant Brothers. Set in 1920s Virginia, youngest brother Jack (Shia LaBeouf), eldest brother Howard (Jason Clarke) and leader of the pack Forrest (Tom Hardy) have a nice, quiet life bootlegging apple brandy when, almost on the same day, Jack falls in love with the daughter (Mia Waskiowska) of a local Amish priest, Howard becomes a raging alcoholic, Forrest falls in love with a new lady in town (Jessica Chastain), and last but not least, Special Detective Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) has been sent in from the big city to shut down their operation.

While all these stories chug along, there are no great surprises in terms what happens, but more how it happens, as Hillcoat’s penchant for powerful scenes of violence are still as present as ever, as is his odd levels of sexism – every bad thing that happens in this movie is due to or spurned on by one of the female characters, which, after the negative representation of women in Hillcoat’s The Proposition and The Road, can’t be an accident.

There are some other issues too, including Guy Pearce’s over-the-top, moustache twirling villain, or a shockingly wasted Gary Oldman, who shows up for two minutes as a big bad mobster, and then promptly disappears for the rest of the movie. But aside from this, there is still a lot to enjoy in Lawless. The 1920s  is gorgeously recreated, and the Virginia landscapes are beautifully shot. LaBeouf shows us for the first time since A Guide To Recognising Your Saints that he can do more than just react to CGI in hollow blockbusters, and Hardy’s hulking, grunting, but soulful brute is yet another proud entry on his already enviable CV. All of this combines to something that looks great, packs a wallop, but will probably leave a bad taste in your mouth afterwards, not unlike that bootlegged apple brandy…

Rory Cashin

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)
115 mins

Lawless is released on 7th September 2012

Lawless – Official Website

Share

Cinema Review: The Dark Knight Rises

10 bottles of talcum powder later

DIR: Christopher Nolan • WRI: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan • PRO: Christopher Nolan, Charles Roven • DOP: Wally Pfister • ED: Lee Smith • Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy

Without a doubt the most anticipated movie since George Lucas decided to tell the story of Anakin Skywalker, The Dark Knight Rises seems to have two sets of distinct fans leading up to its release; there are those who are ignoring any and all publicity and reviews of the movie before they’ve seen it themselves, and there are those who are gobbling up any and every nugget of new information they can get their eyes on. And to those looking for spoilers, the only big one you’ll get here is this – Is The Dark Knight Rises better than The Dark Knight? No. But not for lack of trying. The primary reason it finishes second in Nolan’s trilogy is due to a giant Joker-shaped hole. Ledger’s villain in The Dark Knight elevated the movie around it, whereas the big bad in Rises cannot match his magnetic appeal.

After eight years of self-imposed exile in his mansion, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is still feeling the fallout of the death of the love of his life, with only his butler Alfred (Michael Caine) for company. However, a run-in with cat-burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway, much better in the role than expected) puts a renewed hop in his step. Before long he’s back at Wayne HQ, checking out Lucius Fox’s (Morgan Freeman) latest bat-inspired inventions, and also checking out new love interest / Wayne board-member Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard). Meanwhile, Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and rookie cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are following leads which walk them directly into the path of Bane (Tom Hardy, indecipherable about 20% of the time), who has some rather revolutionary plans for the future of Gotham. Pretty soon all of these story-strands hit a crossroads, and all hell breaks loose.

To say any more of the plot would spoil some of the surprises Nolan has in store, but he sure takes his time getting there. The movie clocks in at 164 minutes, and aside from the opening Bond-esque mid-air plane hijacking, the opening hour is fairly light on action. There are a lot of characters to get through, a lot of plot to fall into place, a whole lot of call backs to Batman Begins and The Dark Knight to reference. There is barely any room to breathe, the film is packed that tightly with events, and it can be very easy to get lost in the jumble of stories happening all at once.

But once Bane’s plan becomes clear, the movie shifts into high-gear. The final hour ramps up the tension with a ticking-clock element that should have most viewers right on the edge of their seats, and nobody dials the action sequences up to the epic levels quite like Nolan, and his scenes of destruction surpass anything in the series so far.

It’s very easy to lose the story of Batman in the midst of more interesting villains, and that certainly seemed the case with The Dark Knight, but Rises puts Wayne right back under the microscope, and Bale finds new depths of emotion with the character, making him more vulnerable and ultimately human than before. The massive cast are catered for extremely well for the final curtain call, with special shout outs to Caine’s Alfred for providing the emotional core for the trilogy, and a certain not-to-be-named-here someone who shows up for two scenes and almost steals the movie out from everyone.

If there is a big gripe (aside from plot-holes which could only be poked at properly following repeat viewings), it’s that Schumacher’s Batman Forever and Batman & Robin were ridiculed for being too light and frothy (as well as being, ye know, crap). But Nolan has gone too far the other way; The Dark Knight Rises is not a fun movie to watch. It is a heavy, fantastically cinematic emotional slog  to get through. Now, before the pitch-forks start getting sharpened, Nolan’s trilogy is still obviously a landmark in modern cinema and three of the greatest comic book movies ever made. But whoever takes up his mantle from here should remember that being a billionaire vigilante with bat-shaped cars and bikes and planes, along with hot women dressed in leather cat-suits dying to get into your bat-pants… there is SOME fun to be had there. Just a thought.

Rory Cashin

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
164 mins

The Dark Knight Rises is released on 20th July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises – Official Website

Share

Cinema Review: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

 

tinker-tailor-soldier-spy-bashful-doc-dopey

 

DIR: Tomas Alfredson • WRI: Bridget O’Connor, Peter Straughan • PRO: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Robyn Slovo • DOP: Hoyte Van Hoytema • ED: Dino Jonsäter • DES: Dino Jonsäter • CAST: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Ciarán Hinds

Featuring an exhausting list of top-class British actors that would make a Harry Potter film feel inadequate in comparison, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a stylish espionage thriller in the classic Cold War vein. Based on the novel by John Le Carré, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy eschews the action and gadgetry of the post-Casino Royale/Mission: Impossible generation of spy movies in favour of pacing, tension and intrigue; and will find an excited audience amongst those who long for the days of The Manchurian Candidate and Klute.

The unbeatable Gary Oldman plays the iconic, grim-faced spymaster George Smiley, recently forced into retirement from the ‘Circus’, the epicentre of British intelligence. But when evidence arises that his ailing and increasingly paranoid former boss, Control (John Hurt), may have been right about a Soviet mole infiltrating the highest offices of the Circus, Smiley is called in to smoke the mole out.

The suspects, codenamed ‘Tinker’, ‘Tailor’, ‘Soldier’ and ‘Poor Man’ after an old English nursery rhyme, are the arrogant but arguably incompetent new Circus boss Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), ladies’ man Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), gruff but cunning Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds) and prissy, watchful Toby Esterhase (David Dencik). Smiley, aided by young spies Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy, must uncover which of his former colleagues is leaking vital intelligence to the mysterious Russian operative known only as Karla, without any of the cabal finding out.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy will come under scrutiny as it has been shot before; as a BBC miniseries starring Alec Guinness as Smiley back in 1979. Over six-hours long, that series allowed the tension and intrigue to slowly build and boil over. Here, the pace moves slowly but ceaselessly, giving the audience very little time to take in the huge amount of information flowing between agents and interrogators.

However, shot by the visionary Tomas Alfredson, who redefined the arthouse horror film with the exemplary Let the Right One In, this film adaptation has a visual flair that utterly eclipses the sterile look of the miniseries. Alfredson and his team filter the colour of the ’70s through an oppressive grey, capturing the rotten heart of the espionage world in an otherwise vibrant era. Two missions, to Budapest and Istanbul, provide the film’s most visually inspired moments, as well as its greatest thrills.

As Smiley, Oldman gives one of his greatest performances, easily rivaling that of Guinness, making the character a more formidable adversary while still showing his weaknesses, particularly in the area of his troubled private life. Still soaring from his Oscar® win, Firth has enough to play with here and gets a number of the film’s best lines. The rest of the cast are largely strong, though Toby Jones feels strangely miscast, and fans of Hollywood upstart Tom Hardy will be disappointed he has little opportunity to show off his skills. The real revelation here is Mark Strong as bitter, double-crossed field agent Jim Prideaux – the undeniably typecast actor here shines as a character of tragic and unexpected depth.

An expertly made thriller, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy feels undermined slightly by its rushed pace – one can’t help but feel that somewhere near the midpoint between this feature and the ’70s miniseries is the perfect spy tale. Fans of the book will likely be disappointed at some of the greater detail and character development that has been excised, not to mention one hugely memorable (and oft-quoted) line of dialogue that is nowhere to be found here.

Intriguing and intense, this will not please all, but it is a memorable, finely acted and wonderfully stylised spy drama from an emerging master of cinema.

David Neary

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is released on 16th September 2011

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy– Official Website

Share