DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES REVIEW

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Yawn of the Planet of the Apes? Not quite but a questionable running length does more damage than the simian flu in what could have been a visually stunning tour de force of a prequel/sequel/prequel sequel

I fear this film will split people. Not that it hadn’t from the get go with a Planet of the Apes prequel trilogy but some will be in awe of the incredibly visual work to even care that beneath the surface there isn’t a lot of story and in terms of human character development, there is zilch. I really wanted to this work and it does . . . in sorts. A mixed bag.

Visually stunning. Incredible animation. Andy Serkis (Lord of the Rings) and Toby Kebbell (Rock ‘N’ Rolla) are fantastic as Caesar and Koba. Their expressions and movements are impeccable. You can actually suspend disbelief and become engrossed in the beautifully animated habitat. I know that the monkeys are at the fore front of these movies but it seems that no time was spent on providing us with human characters that we should care about. It is all clearly defined in the trailer; good guy, bad guy, good ape, bad ape.

The opening sequence in which we see the apes hunting and communicating through sign language is intriguing and suspenseful. They have developed a safe haven with rules and respect. That is until the humans come along. To be honest, the 3D is not a massive investment nor does it make a massive impact. The animation is good enough. Every time the humans enter the scene, you feel like the wind is being knocked out of the sails. It was great to see TV actors from the small screen get a bigger platform to perform but the characters are so clichéd and flat, that you find it hard to care. The time and energy is more focused on our primitive protagonists.

It was great to see Jason Clarke (Lawless) playing a normal good guy and he was probably the most memorable character . . . out of the humans. If anything it proved that Franco and Lithgow’s presences were very much missed. A passing reference with some video camera footage is we all get on old James ‘Squinty’ Franco. Keri Russell (The Americans) was the only female character that was so bland, it was such a shame. Any back story or mystery about the humans is soon exposed and leaves little interest. It felt like the writer had spent the time on the monkeys and thought, “Oh wait. We need some humans. Yeah, that will do”. It was great to see Gary Oldman but to be honest, anyone could have played him. All he did was cry or yell “They’re animals” over and over.

The main thing that kept this slackening piece going was the brewing rivalry between Koba and Caesar as Koba’s distrust for the humans seemed to threaten the very peace that Caesar worked hard to keep hold of. One thing that did irritate me slightly was once you have heard Caesar yell “No” or “Go” numerous times (with great conviction by Serkis), you can’t help but feel where is this going? We have seen all this before. For some, that will be enough. For others, you may be left wanting. Caesar is still a charismatic character and he steals the scene every time. But apart from Koba, there aren’t any memorable characters that can rival them.

It’s not all bad. Koba’s stake out sequences on the humans made for engaging viewing and when the action and suspense finally arrives, it delivers the goods. The final 20 minutes are riveting, explosive and action packed. However, you can’t help but feel that with the inevitable air of another sequel rearing its ugly head, that everything will either remain unresolved or be thrown up in the air. You find yourself picking out moments and guessing; this must be where the apes go full evil and enslave the humans, nope. Now, nope.

Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) does his best at taking over the helm but it all felt like build up. With confirmation that he will be directing the next instalment, two things are a must. More pace and better humans. Monkeys are A-OK. One slight qualm, how come Koba spoke more English than Caesar? Why aren’t they all speaking yet? But to be able to do sign language, hunt and build up a colony in ten years, some would say that’s plenty progress.

All in all, not bad. Fantastic animation, great visual and action pieces but a lagging pace and predictable human characters kill off what could have something so much better. 3/5

Currently ranked 64 out of 196!

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY REVIEW

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Behold, an Oscar candidate. A proper one. A perfect showcase in sheer acting. I may have said that a few times now but this one takes the cake.

Brilliant, bold, riveting drama with the best acting ensemble I’ve seen in some time. Meryl Streep once again demonstrates why she still rakes in the nominations. Phenomenal. I may have to retract my bet on the Best Actress nod. Tracey Letts adapted the screenplay from her own award winning stage play. Some may argue that the film may be restricted to the house, a beautiful house at that. But I feel it works as the perfect wrestling ring for one of the most dysfunctional families I’ve seen since Arrested Development (as exemplified perfectly in the poster).

Admittedly, I was reluctant to see this. Me? Reluctant to see a film? Strange. I know. The trailer didn’t sell it for me. But Mum’s a Streep fan and so we went . . . and was pleasantly surprised. What was strange was seeing ol’ brainbox Sherlock Holmes, Mr Benedict Cumberbatch as silly sympathetic simpleton Little Charlie. An odd, if well acted, transition. After his shoddy accent in The Island, Ewan McGregor has finally mastered the American accent. The only thing I could pick at is why on Earth did he have his teeth done? Are you Rylan in disguise?! (X Factor’s Rylan Clark. If you don’t know, who that is. Well, you’re lucky). Apart from that, very good. In all fairness, the cast were brilliantly picked for the roles. The only problem with so much talent on display, certain actors get pushed to the back of the line but the fact they are still able to make an impression, shows how talented they are and how well developed the characters were. Juliette Lewis as the younger gullible naive daughter (Not surprising that Lewis would play the dimwit but she nails it so well). Delmot Mulroney as the laid back slacker with the fancy Ferrari, trying to stay cool with the kids, reeking of a mid-life crisis.

Julianne Nicholson as Ivy, the daughter that stayed while the others flew the coop. And speaking of coop, it was great to see Chris Cooper. An underrated actor who always shines. I mean only he could go from American Beauty to The Muppet Movie and nail it. Desperately trying to keep the peace in a house full of nutters, his breaking point speech was brilliantly done. You couldn’t help but root for the guy. It could be argued that Abigail Breslin and Sam Shepard were wasted characters. But the real story is between Violet (Streep) and Barbara (Roberts). Breslin’s character Jean was more of a foil to unearth their resentments and there is a reason for Shepard without spoiling anything. Great actor and the fact he made an impact with a mere couple of minutes, reciting TS Elliott was very good. But anyone could have played him. 

There are three actresses that stood out. The first was Margo Martindale (a talented actress that has played some memorable roles from some of my favourite TV shows, Dexter and The Americans. She especially struck my eye after her turn in Justified as the creepy Mags Bennett). She plays Mattie Fae brilliantly. Her chemistry with Streep was fantastic. You could have believed that they were sisters. They made it seem so natural. Now the other two and the main stars, who have been rightly nominated for Oscars respectively, are Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep as Barbara and Violet. They desperately try to keep civil during a family crisis that has finally brought all the family home, despite their strained relationship but it isn’t soon before tempers flare up and everyone’s dirty laundry is thrown about. The pair are fantastic and when they confront each other over their problems with one another, it is great to watch. Riveting and at times emotional. Meryl Streep, however, was on another level. As soon as she entered the first frame, she stole the show and dominated the film as the overbearing pill popping matriarch. Her erratic behaviour from mad ranter to a vulnerable sufferer was conveyed expertly. Her “truth telling” guilt trip at the dinner table was brilliantly done. As the film progresses, we finally get to see her vulnerability and show real sympathy for her. The final moments are a fitting end note to an impeccable performance by an incredible actress. Just watch it!

Family secrets are revealed, unexpected twists and turns jump up, it all kicks off and then . . . ends quite abruptly. The ending was to be expected but it seemed to wrap up all too quickly and loosely but then when are family matters ever really resolved? But after so much build up, tension and great acting, maybe a little more time could have been spared on the final minutes, especially when one of the characters drives away in an unexpected direction. I’m staying as cryptic as possible as I want people to see this. Speaking as someone from a big family, there were so many personalities that reminded me of my own. The dinner table scene demonstrated that perfectly, especially when Violet told the men off for taking their jackets off at the table and watching them put them back on like scorned children. I haven’t seen the play that this was based on but I would very much like to now. Some may argue that the pace doesn’t justify the means but I don’t believe so. I think it allowed the simmering tension to bring to the boil perfectly, making it better for it.

All in all, well shot, well written, well acted, well done! Hazaar! In Streep we trust 4/5

Currently ranks #14 out of 133!