Tag Archives: Andy Serkis

“WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: 20th Century Fox

All hail Caesar.

We fade in on a series of words. Rise. Dawn. War. Perhaps these words could have been used to describe every conflict in human history. In this context however, they refer to the apes, who were once the inferior species on the planet, now becoming so powerful and so many that they’ve pushed humanity on the verge of extinction. The sad part is that it was never in the ape’s intentions to do so. Nature has simply taken its course.

In this penultimate moment building up over the course of several years, War for the Planet of the Apes finds the ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) picking up the pieces of his broken life. War with the humans ravages the ape’s home day by day. Apes are dying every week from the attacks. And no matter how much Caesar pushes for peace, the humans keep pushing back for war. Like any general during wartime, Caesar is stuck in a cycle of violence, and he’s powerless to do anything about it.

One day, the ape’s forest home is raided and they are forced to flee from the carnage. The apes band together and find a new, safe location miles away from the humans in the desert. Caesar, however, cannot forget or forgive the deaths that the humans have caused. Now determined to avenge his fallen brethren, Caesar sets out alone to find the man who killed them and finally end this insufferable war.

I never expected to get so wrapped up into a movie about talking monkeys fighting against human beings. I especially didn’t expect to be rooting against my own species. Yet, that’s exactly what happened when I watched War for the Planet of the Apes, an epic and emotional conclusion to this prequel trilogy that functions as a summer blockbuster, a war drama, and a somber tragedy all at once. Few films reach the depth and the complexion that War for the Planet of the Apes reaches, even fewer that belong to a franchise.

First things first: Andy Serkis as Caesar. Holy cow. Serkis has always been a powerhouse actor in motion-capture performances, with his roles ranging from the cowardly and bipolar Gollum in Lord of the Rings to the angry giant monster in King Kong. With Caesar, however, he’s always displayed an intimacy and acuteness to the character that makes him believable not just as an ape, but as a husband, father, and leader struggling with the consequences of war. With Rise and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Serkis displays how accurate he can be in portraying animalistic behaviors. With War however, he displays that alongside the emotional gravity that is attached to Caesar, the internal conflict of an ape who longs for peace but is pursuing it through fields of dead bodies, human and ape alike. This is simply a masterful performance delivered by the talented Andy Serkis. If he does not get nominated for an Oscar for this performance, then he deserves a special achievement statuette at the very least.

The character is also written extremely well, just like all of the characters are in this epic. Reportedly sitting in a theater for hours just for the purpose of watching movies, director Matt Reeves and writer Mark Bomback pulls inspiration from any source they could find, from Bridge on the River Kawaii to Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. There really are a lot of similarities between War for the Planet of the Apes and other war dramas. The crippling effects on an established society, the murderous instinct that grows within its soldiers, the post-traumatic stress that comes from battle, even the God complexes that some generals amass victory after victory. This truly is a layered film, filled with a plethora of ideas and conflicts that make all the characters and their struggles interesting. A movie about talking animals has no business being this compelling or thought-provoking, yet War for the Planet of the Apes swiftly earns its title as the best Planet of the Apes movie out of the series.

The visual effects, of course, are as spectacular as they’ve always been. Not just with the explosions and action sequences, but also with its animation of the apes, their movements, and how they look and feel like real mutated animals. Viewers cried foul play a few years back when Dawn of the Planet of the Apes lost the best visual effects Oscar to Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. I genuinely believe this film has a better chance of nabbing the award than Dawn does, mostly because its job is so much harder. While the effects team still has to adapt the ape’s movements and mannerisms (even more this time, because the film almost entirely focuses on the ape’s perspective), they also have to animate the ape’s strained emotions and facial expressions. Capturing the intimacy of that is hard, especially in animated form. Yet when the ape’s tear up, cry, snort their nostrils in anger, or smile, it feels like a real animal is in front of you performing these movements, not a visual effects artist from behind a computer screen.

You should be aware that War for the Planet of the Apes is not an action film, even though it is marketed to look like one. I saw a lot of kids in the screening I attended, and many of them were restless and anxious because there wasn’t a lot of movement happening on-screen. That doesn’t mean that the film is boring, but it does mean that it takes time to build up its story and illustrate the emotions that characters are experiencing. Because it takes this time to invest in itself, War for the Planet of the Apes ends up becoming a masterful picture, equal parts powerful, emotional, and morally conflicting. I knew there had to be some reason why it’s main protagonist was named after a Shakespearean tragedy.

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Top Ten Films Of 2014

Has anyone ever stopped to wonder why all of the best of the year lists have to be in the top ten? Like, what sort of critic was working on his list and thought that ten would be the magic number? Why ten and not twelve? Or fifteen? Five? Twenty? Eight? Why was ten specifically chosen as the big number? Was it chosen at random, or was it actually chosen for some relevant, significant reason?

Regardless of whatever the case may be, I’m choosing to be a little rebellious this year. For the past few years, I’ve seen enough films to make a “Top 15″ list if I wanted to, but if I had done that, my site viewership would go down by about twenty views.

So this year, to battle the preconceived notion that “best of the year” lists have to have ten movies, I’m doing two different things. 1) I’m adding an “honorable mentions” selection that while those films aren’t necessarily in my top ten, they are still significant films that have contributed to the year’s industry regardless. 2) In honor of our first full year without the wise, sometime snarky, words of film critic Roger Ebert, I’m offering a special Grand Jury Prize, which honors a film from the year which has made a notable accomplishment that fits outside of my year’s top ten.

As always, there is a few things you need to know before I get into my year’s best. First of all, I haven’t seen all of the films the year has had to offer. I’ve heard from so many people how Jean-Marc Vallee’s Wild was emotionally stirring, with Reese Witherspoon’s performance being the greatest highlight of the film. I’ve also read from critics that Selma, A Most Violent Year, and American Sniper were great movies as well, but guess what? None of those movies get a wide release until after Dec. 31, so I’m not able to even see those films until after the year anyway. So what am I going to do? Release a revision to my current list, or add those films to 2015 if they’re good enough? I’ll make a decision when it comes to that. It’s the studio’s faults for releasing those movies so late into the year anyway. Blasted film mongers.

Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, this is my list for the best films of 2014. Not yours. There has been high praise from many notable films of the year, including Edge of Tomorrow, The Theory of Everything, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. None of those films will be on my top ten list because I didn’t deem them worthy enough to be on there. It’s nothing against the films or the filmmakers: I just didn’t think they were good enough.

If you’re not satisfied with that, then please, make your own top ten list. I’d love to read it, and if your reasonings are sound enough, I’d like to share it with others.

Now then, let’s hop to it, shall we? Here are my top ten films of 2014:

10. Interstellar 

A mesmerizing, breathtaking, and exhilarating journey that may have only slightly exceeded it’s grasp. Based on an idea by physicist Kip Thorne and directed by Christopher Nolan, Interstellar takes place in the future on a dying planet Earth, where the only source of sustainable food is by growing corn. When former aircraft pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) stumbles upon a secret station that has been hiding NASA for so many years, Cooper enlists in a daring space mission to find a new planet that will be able to sustain and save the human race. A testament to the quality of film that Nolan is consistent in making, Interstellar is a brilliantly woven, thought-provoking plot, invoking the same themes of humanity and identity that Nolan exercises in all of his films. McConaughey reaches an emotional depth much deeper than past “Nolan” actors, and succeeds in making his character more human than hero. This is Nolan’s most emotional movie yet, but it’s also his most complicated and convoluted. But if Nolan’s only real flaw with this film is being overly ambitious, I don’t consider that a flaw at all. Three and a half stars.

9. The Grand Budapest Hotel

A crafty and artsy film that acts as a homage to the early days of cinema. After being framed for a violent murder of one of his former hotel guests, Concierge Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) teams up with his young apprentice Zero (Tony Revolori) to set out and prove his innocence through a series of weird, wacky, and crazy adventures. Written and directed by Wes Anderson, who was nominated for an Academy Award for The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a peculiar, quirky film, a fun and enjoyable ride in it’s own singular way. Anderson is very specific with the direction of the film, using practical effects and set pieces that gives the film a very distinct visual style and aesthetic. The antics Gustave and Zero go through are the stuff of slapstick gold, with these guys doing silly stunts and chase sequences that reminds me of the silent film days of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. It’s definitely seasoned for the art house crowd, and it’s definitely more difficult to appeal to the masses. But if you allow yourself to be lost in it and have fun with it, you’ll find that it is easily the most unique film of the year. Three and a half stars.

8. How To Train Your Dragon 2

A wildly exciting and entertaining animated ride that appeals to both kids and adults. When a crusade of dragon-hunters reach the land of Berk and begin their hunt for the flying beasts, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) must team up once again with his dragon Toothless to stop the brigade and save Berk’s dragons and dragon riders. Written and directed by Dean DuBlois, who returned from directing the first film, How To Train Your Dragon 2 is a near-perfect follow-up. It hits on every note it needs to, from the comedy, to the animation, to the action, to the emotion. Hiccup is a much stronger, yet more vulnerable, character now, and needs to face more mature situations now as a grown man rather than as he did when he was a boy. In many ways, How To Train Your Dragon 2 is to it’s first counterpart as Hiccup is to his younger self: they both grew. Three and a half stars.

7. Gone Girl

A brilliantly frustrating thriller that exercises themes of infidelity and media harassment. When Nick Dunne’s (Ben Affleck) wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) goes missing, all eyes turn to Nick for what happened to his wife. When clues slowly surface and more details surrounding the disappearance reveal themselves, everyone is asking the same question: did Nick Dunne kill his wife? Directed by David Fincher and written by author Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl is a masterfully orchestrated thriller, equal parts daring, inventive, intelligent, and unpredictable. Fincher propels Flynn’s brilliant plot forward with expert direction, eye-striking camerawork, and a cast that Fincher pulls the best from. This movie is like a game of cat and mouse, except no one really knows who is the cat or mouse. There is not one note in the film that you can guess is coming. Three and a half stars.

6. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

A compelling and exciting survivalist-drama that looks at the human/primate condition as two sides to one coin. After the chemical attack on planet Earth that took place at the end of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes follows the story of Caesar (Andy Serkis) and Malcolm (Jason Clarke), the leaders of the apes and the humans, respectively. As the human-primate war rages on violently, Caesar and Malcolm begin to see that the apes and the humans aren’t so different from each other, and they begin to explore any possibilities of peace between two races. Matt Reeves builds an intelligent, in-depth story around Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and handles its premise with skill and precision.  It surprising that the basis of this film wasn’t grounded in action or ridiculous CGI stunts, but rather in small, intimate moments of conversation and ape-sign-language that characters share with each other. Serkis is a revelation in the movie, and deserves an Oscar nomination for both his physical and emotional performance. Four stars.

5. Birdman

One of the most mesmerizing, unique, disturbing, shocking, and darkly funny films I’ve ever seen. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu writes and directs this ingenious dramedy starring Michael Keaton as Riggan Thompson, a washed-up movie actor trying to escape his image in a former superhero role by adapting his favorite broadway play to the stage. Keaton is a natural in the role, relating his own experience to portraying Batman in order to further authenticity for the character. Cinematographer Emanuel Lubeski contributes to the visual design of the film, shooting and editing it to look like one, continuous shot rather than multiple longer takes. But Inarritu is the most essential storyteller here, making a visual and emotional masterpiece that is so distinct in its own language that it is impossible to define it, let alone replace it. Four stars.

4. Whiplash

One of the most edgy, thrilling, and provocative films of the year. Miles Teller stars as Andrew, an upcoming college student who is majoring in music and dreams of becoming one of the best drummers in the country. A series of events lands him in the top jazz orchestra of Shaffer Conservatory and under the tutelage of Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), a brilliant but harsh and antagonistic instructor who is known to go very hard on his students. Andrew and Fletcher both develop an intense rivalry that both hurts Andrew, angers Fletcher, and yet equally compels them both to become the very best they can be. Writer/director Damien Chazelle conducts both actors through his sophomore effort, and does a great job in producing a tense, electric vibe consistently throughout the film. Teller and Simmons’ chemistry with each other is equally perfect, with the both of them bouncing off of each other’s words and emotions as perfectly as a drum beat. This film is about more than just music. It’s about the human desire to be great and what sacrifices we’d make to get there. Four stars.

3. Boyhood

The most revolutionary film of the year, ambitious in both production and vision. A twelve-year project pioneered by writer/director Richard Linklater, Boyhood tells the story of Mason’s (Ellar Coltrane) childhood, chronicling his entire life from when he was six years old, up until when he turns 18 and leaves for college. The movie isn’t so much a story as it is a scrapbook of memories, and Linklater is pulling each photograph out of it just to show it to us. When he is younger, Ellar isn’t acting but living, behaving like any other child would in the moment because he is in the moment. As he gets older, his performance gets more stagnant and Coltrane becomes more of a surrogate for us to express our emotions through, rather than experiencing his own. In this day and age, it’s rare to find a film as real and honest as Boyhood is. Four stars.

2. X-men: Days of Future Past

The best entry out of the X-men franchise, and the best superhero movie of the year. Serving as a sequel to both 2011’s X-men: First Class and 2006’s X-men: The Last Stand, X-men: Days of Future Past is set in the apocalyptic future where mutants are being exterminated by humanoid robots called “Sentinels”. Having only one chance to go back in time and stop this future from ever happening, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) through time to their younger selves (Portrayed by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) so they can stop the triggering event and save the future. Directed by Bryan Singer, who formerly helmed the first two entries in the franchise, X-men: Days of Future Past is a game changer. It is not only a visually-dazzling and highly climactic sci-fi blockbuster: it is a vastly intelligent and contemplative story that focuses on its recurring themes of racism and xenophobia, once again bringing the consequences of discrimination to the forefront. X-men: Days of Future Past is one of those movies that restores your faith in the superhero genre. Four stars.

And finally, my number one film of the year is —

1. The Fault In Our Stars

Surprised? I’m not. The Fault In Our Stars is one of the most magical, heartbreaking, and genuine films you will ever see, and is more than worthy of being called the most emotional film of the year. Based off of the novel by John Green, The Fault In Our Stars follows the love story of two Cancer-stricken teenagers: the shy and book-loving Hazel Grace (Shailene Woodley) and the optimistic amputee Gus (Ansel Elgort). Written and directed by independent filmmaker Josh Boone, The Fault In Our Stars is one of the best stories ever translated from book to film. I initially was skeptical on seeing this film, considering how much it seemed to have been doused in rom-com syndrome. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Boone adapts Green’s story perfectly to the big screen, retaining everything in the novel from the visual details to the words that were written. But its Woodley and Elgort that sells it so well, their chemistry that vibrates so wonderfully with each other and leaves such an impression on you. Trust me when I say this isn’t your typical rom-com: it’s a heartfelt drama disguised as a tween movie, and it is the best of it’s kind. Four stars.

And finally, this year’s first Grand Jury Prize appropriately goes to Steve James’ documented biography Life Itself. Following Roger Ebert’s life and career from him growing up in Chicago, to when he got his first reporting job, to when he won the Nobel Prize for film criticism, to when he lost his best friend, to when he got Thyroid cancer, this film is everything that Roger Ebert is: funny, honest, heartfelt, unabashed, unflinching, and real. It doesn’t give you a peppered-up look at his life: it’s whole and accurate, as genuine as any of the reviews he’s written. I’m probably biased towards this subject, but the subject doesn’t count as long as it is handled well. James’ handles this story with respect and humility, and ends up telling a story about life itself rather than just limiting it to Roger’s story. It’s my favorite documentary of the year, and it brings me great pleasure to award my first Grand Jury Prize to this wonderful film tribute.

Honorable mentions include the creepy and morally ambiguous Nightcrawler, the funny yet stylish Guardians of the Galaxy, the humorously innovative The Lego Movie, and the quietly thrilling The Imitation Game, featuring the year’s best performance from actor Benedict Cumberbatch. Not all films can be honored at the end of the year compilations, but this year I was glad to have seen so many films and give each of them a chance to shine in their own way.

All the same, if you feel differently about some of the films on my list, or you have seen another film that deserves to be recognized, please comment about it. Or make your own list. Movies are deemed as great films not from individuals, but from the masses, and the only way you can tell if a movie has truly accomplished something is if it has the same effect on all its viewers.

On that note, my fellow moviegoers, I end with a classic line from my favorite film critic: “I’ll see you at the movies.”

– David Dunn

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“THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY” Review (✫✫✫✫)

A journey J.R.R. Tolkien would want to go on. 

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the story I first experienced when I saw The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring for the first time. Like The Wizard Of Oz or Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone, it’s a sweeping fantasy about ordinary characters getting thrown into extraordinary circumstances. So if hobbits, dwarves, wizards, and fire-breathing dragons constituted as “ordinary” in this universe, imagine the extraordinary circumstances that they go through.

Serving as a prequel to the J.R.R. fantasy epic The Lord Of The RingsThe Hobbit tells the story of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), a relaxed and easygoing hobbit who doesn’t like to do much throughout the day except for eat, sleep, and smoke his pipe every now and then. One day, he gets a visit from a mysterious stranger named Gandalf (Ian McKellen), an elderly wizard who is looking for shelter and a young companion to go on an adventure with. Much against Bilbo’s wishes, Gandalf not only stays in his small village home: he invites an entire company of dwarves, who proceed to wreck Bilbo’s house and eat everything in his fridge.

After having a nervous breakdown and cleaning up his entire house, Bilbo overhears Gandalf and the small dwarf brigade’s plans. Ages ago, the dwarves‘ prized possession, the Lonely Mountain, was overtaken by a vicious fire-breathing dragon named Smaug, who destroyed their village and stole the castle and all of it’s gold for his own desires.

After being betrayed by their allies, the elves, and being left to fight for their land all by themselves, the dwarves are determined to travel back to the mountain and fight for their home. Bilbo must make a decision of continuing to live on his normal, uneventful life, or to reach out, travel with the dwarves, and seek out adventure the likes of which he’s never experienced before.

Remembering that it was only a few years ago when I originally fell in love with The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the RingThe Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a prequel that hits on all of the right notes, and then some more that I wasn’t expecting. In comparison to it’s elder companion, The Hobbit is uncanny. It has a wide verse of characters, each one being unique and memorable both in appearance and personality. It has a dynamic and involving story, ripe with exposition and emotion, retaining your full attention despite the lengthy run time. And it has highly stylized set pieces and visual spectacles that excite the eyes and overwhelm the mind. Do not mistaken Peter Jackson’s intentions here: he was inspired by Lord of the Rings when he was making The Hobbit.

And yet, there are so many differences from The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings. One of the biggest, I think, would be it’s protagonist. Bilbo is different from Frodo, his nephew in Lord of the Rings whom Elijah Wood inhabited so wonderfully. They’re similar, of course, in that they are small hobbits not necessarily fit for fighting, but are clever, creative, and courageous nonetheless.

And yet, Bilbo is so much more than Frodo is. He’s funnier, for one thing, a bumbling, clumsy little hobbit that reminds me so much of the antics between Pippin and Merry in the original movies. He’s also more outgoing, a more active protagonist doing more in the film than just holding a ring and trekking long miles. He does so much in the film, sneaking around trolls, fighting Orcs, going through traps and mazes, and having a first-hand involvement in many of the film’s biggest fights. My particular favorite scene is one where he is talking to a fan favorite from The Lord of the Rings about the possession of a mysterious gold, rounded object. Hint: His favorite word is “precious.”

My point in saying all of this is that Bilbo is a dynamic character in his own right, and Martin Freeman handles the character very well. In the previous movie trilogy, Freeman had four hobbit inspirations to pull from, and instead of following just one of them, he took characteristics from all of them and made a character all his own. That took great talent and risk, and Freeman’s efforts paid off, making a character that I think is the most memorable and charismatic hobbit out of all of them.

Without a doubt, the best film in the series is Return of the King. This film is perhaps the second best. Sure, at times it might suffer from a slight overdose on exposition, but doesn’t all of the films? The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is an adventurous, ambitious gamble of a film, and it makes me believe once again in the power that a wizard, a slew of dwarves, and a brave little hobbit can have.

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“DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

The predator and the prey are one and the same.

It all started with the eyes.

Looking deeply into them, we see the angry, vicious, relentless energy behind them, as hungry as an animal and as wild as a beast. A somewhat appropriate description, because these are the eyes of the ape Caesar (Andy Serkis), the intelligent primate we’ve come to know from Rise of the Planet of the Apes. As we continue looking at his eyes, his steady, violent stare, we see his army of followers climbing on branches behind him.

He drops his hand, motioning them to attack.

After we see this powerful, expressive opening sequence, we are taken through this epic journey that is Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a compelling and exciting survivalist-drama that looks at the human-primate condition from two different perspectives, as if they are two sides to one coin. The leader of the apes is Caesar, who now has his own family in his wife Cornelia (Judy Greer) and his son Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston). The leader of a band of human survivors is Malcolm (Jason Clarke), who also has his own family in Ellie (Keri Russel) and his teenage son Alex (Kodi Smit-McPhee).

Both of these band’s stories take place years after the virus attack that destroyed the most of humanity years ago, which we got a glimpse at the end of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Both sides have lost loved ones in the wake of the disaster. Both sides do not trust the other. Yet, as Caesar and Malcolm share close encounters with each other, they slowly begin to understand and see that their races are not so different from each other. As the human-primate war rages on, Caesar and Malcolm must combine their efforts to protect each of their families, and seek out peace between their established societies.

Remembering fondly of how I enjoyed seeing the ape empire’s beginnings and relishing in the context of human-animal abuse in Rise, I went into this movie knowing it had a strong foundation to build it’s story on, hoping that they wouldn’t fail. Not only did director Matt Reeves not fail in telling his story of Dawn; he expanded further upon the Planet of the Apes story in detail, action and commentary than I estimated him to. His film ended up being better than Rupert Wyatt’s film in spades.

Firstly, let’s talk about the similarities between each film. Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, the writing/producing team behind Rise, returns yet again to contribute to Dawn’s story and to the production of this film. In many ways, I argue that both are better in this film than they were in the last one.. The plot of the first movie was an involving, interesting and emotionally compelling sci-fi thriller, a story that showed the worst of humanity and their cruel mistreatment of animals. Here, this movie has a more of a political facet in its structure, a drama that shows each race as a mirror of the other. It shows a civil anarchy blooming in the heart of each race.

The characters are compelling and have genuine interactions with each other, from Caesar confronting Malcolm on staying away from their home, to intimate scenes when Alex interacts with Caesar’s new baby boy. What I liked so much, however, is director Matt Reeves details not only to these emotions, but the visual display of the story in itself.

Being no stranger to visual effects or emotions with a filmography including Cloverfield and Let Me In, Reeves is skillful in making an exciting action movie while at the same time making a involving apocalyptic thriller. It surprising with this film that the basis of the film wasn’t grounded in action or ridiculous CGI stunts, but rather, in small, intimate moments of conversation and ape-sign-language that characters share with each other. It’s nice to see a big-budget blockbuster movie reaching for more intimate, personal situations, rather than the billion-dollar-sized explosions of garbage you’d see from the Transformers movies.

I do have a criticism in the movie in that the human characters were mostly boring. I have a rule of thumb that if I can’t remember a character’s name by the end of the movie, then that character is mostly forgettable. By the end of the film, I only remembered Malcolm’s name. I called Keri Russel’s character “Keri Russel” in the film while I labeled Smit-McPhee as a Jay Baruchel rip-off. I even looked at Gary Oldman’s character in the film and smirked in my head, “Well, hello there, Commissioner Gordon! Did you end up surviving the nuclear fallout in The Dark Knight Rises?”

What I realize though is that the humans aren’t supposed to be the main anchor of the film. The apes are center focus here, and this is really their story, figuring out their emotions, finding their identities, and realizing their faults as they look at human beings and see themselves deep within.

I think I realized this was a masterful film when it approached its final minutes, when we once again returned to the eyes of Caesar that we saw at the beginning of the movie. Only this time, they weren’t as aggressive as they were before. These were not the eyes of the predator, the hunter eagerly waiting to hunt his prey. No, these eyes were solemn and sad, as if they were looking at a bleak, grim future, one they were powerless to stop.

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“RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES” Review (✫✫✫)

Hey, apes are people too. 

Be honest: how many of you were expecting this one to be good? I know I certainly didn’t. After seeing how poorly the earlier Planet of the Apes movies were faring (I’m looking at you, Tim Burton), here I was expecting another downtrodden experience that was trying to milk whatever it could left from the utters of its franchise. Why wouldn’t I expect that? The same thing has been done with the Jaws series alongside every conceivable Friday the 13th movie ever made. Believe me, I wasn’t expecting a good movie when I heard that this movie was called Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It honestly felt more like it was falling to me.

Here, however, is the rare occasion where a prequel/reboot actually contributes to the franchise rather than taking away from it. Taking place years before the events of the very first Planet of the Apes film, Rise tells the story of Will Rodman (James Franco), a scientist who is developing a potential cure for alzheimer’s deep within his lab. After testing it on multiple chimpanzees and noticing an effect in increased intelligence, one of them goes berserk, attacks her caretakers, then is killed in self-defense. The scientists are ordered to terminate the project and kill any ape left within the vicinity.

It is during his routine inspection where he discovers a small baby chimp deep within the cell of the female ape that was killed earlier. Knowing that the baby would die if he remained there, Will took the little baby home and raised him as his own.

As the years progress, we notice that the baby chimp shares the same characteristics as his mother did when she was in the labs. Both of them displayed feats of great intelligence and memorization. Both developed abilities to read, write and comprehend speech. Both learned the skill of being able to do sign language. Most impressive was their ability to convey, understand and express emotions, almost like they’re human themselves. As the small chimp named Caesar (Andy Serkis) grows out of his adolescence and into adult apehood, he begins to notice a darker side of humanity and plots a way to set himself and his fellow apes free from mankind’s grasp.

Here is a film that, by every definition, should not have been good. It had everything working against it. It’s the prequel to a film series that hasn’t had a good film since 1968. It’s the seventh film in a franchise that has long since lost its influence. And it’s centered around a main character who isn’t even human, an ape who, for more than half of the film, can’t even talk.

Believe me, I went into this film fully expecting to hate it. Turns out that it’s quite the opposite. Rise of the Planet of the Apes demonstrates exactly what a hollywood blockbuster is supposed to be, a smart, involving and intelligently made film that is equal parts exciting as it is relevant. Director Rupert Wyatt, who made the 2008 film The Escapist prior to Rise, is careful and delicate with the pacing of his film. Starting off on a very dramatic and touching note, we go through what can mostly be seen as a science-fiction drama about the relationship between the guy who plays Harry Osborn and his little ape-friend, until all hell breaks loose and the beginning of the human-ape war spawns itself.

I exaggerate a little bit, but you get my point. There isn’t a lot of action in the movie, or at least, not as much as you’d expect it to be Instead, there are a lot of small, intimate moments where Caesar and Will’s beings clash into each other, either bonding in very genuine, heartfelt moments or rubbing off of each other as starkly as their conflicting races are. This is a dialogue-driven movie, with Will and Caesar each questioning the decisions they make and how they should should both respond as the result of it.

A lot of things don’t really blow up in the movie, to be honest. But when it does, ohhhh boy, is it exciting. My favorite scene in the movie had to be when Caesar and his primate army broke out of a preservation facility in new york and pierced their way right through the heart of the city, almost like it’s the American revolution and it’s George Washington leading the charge.

At the absolute heart of this film, however, is Caesar, portrayed here by actor Andy Serkis. If you don’t recognize the name, you don’t deserve to call yourself a cinephile. Serkis is most known for a slew of CGI performances, ranging from Gollum in The Lord of the Rings to the titular ape in Peter Jackson’s King Kong. Great as he was as Gollum, I’m tempted to say that this is his best performance yet. When you watch the film, notice the differences at how he carries himself as an ape and as a slightly-more evolved ape. In early scenes, he’s just walking around like a regular animal, with his elongated arms carrying himself as he “oohs” and “ahhs” while rubbing the back of his head. As the movie continues on, Caesar’s evolvement is apparent, and you notice his regular instinctual appearance has been replaced with a tall, stark, and grim figure, bleakfully looking on at a society that he has lost all faith in. Gollum was a character he concieved entirely from his own inspiration, while King Kong was one he concieved from studying the natural behavior of apes. He does both here with Caesar, and successfully portrays a character who is not just an ape, but a super ape, one who is evolving to something much more dangerous at an alarming and vengeful pace.

The only complaint I will issue with this movie is its ending, which is so melodramatic and sappy that it could have been used for an “Animal Planet” commercial. Why did they have to do this? Who says a movie needs to end on an optimistic note? Why do we need to have a happy ending? Who says we can’t end on a bleak, grim note, foreshadowing on a downtrodden spiral of war, doom and apocalypse? We all know that this can only end one way anyway. The franchise isn’t called “Planet of the Humans”, after all.

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