When Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes swung into cinemas, it did so with little fanfare or expectation, other than the expectation of it being terrible. The last Apes movie audiences were subjected to was Tim Burton’s abominable 2001 remake of the original classic, which essentially put down any interest the cinema-going public might have had in the super advanced monkey genre. Yet, with a solid cast, top-line CGI, a relatively logical plot and Andy Serkis, Rise was a cut above. Not just a churned out, popcorn blockbuster, but a surprisingly touching tale of humanity, as well as one man and his chimpanzee.
Like so many films that produced with little expectation but triumph upon release - Batman Begins, The Godfather - Rise left audiences eager for more, but the birthing period of Dawn was not the smoothest or fear-allaying. The departure of star James Franco and director Rupert Wyatt, its future and potential to match its predecessor was far from assured. Thankfully, the arrival of Cloverfield director Matt Reeves was something of a masterstroke. as was pushing Serkis’ Caesar to front and centre.
Taking us a decade forward from the end of Rise, Dawn sees humanity all but extinguished across the globe whilst Caesar and the other artificially advanced apes exist peacefully as a community in the dense forests of San Francisco. No ape has come across a human for two winters now… but, inevitably, that all changes. You’re watching a Planet Of The Apes movie, you know there’ll be a human vs ape fight at some point, and you should really know what themes will be present; coexistence, conflict, what it means to be human, family, man vs nature, man vs man, etc. But Dawn is no less engrossing or thrilling for being a tad predictable in its story or outcome.
It’s most definitely a film that adheres the modern franchise sequel formula, in broadening and darkening the world in which it is set (as is almost inevitable when switching locations from pre- to post-apocalypse). Credit where credit is due to Reeves in pulling the story back to just a decade after the virus outbreak, instead of setting it a lot further down the line as was planned by the producers. Reeves also showcases his eye for visuals, with some amazing imagery during the centrepiece battle between the species, including a fantastic 360° long take from the turret of a tank which might just be one of my favourite shots of the year.
WETA’s work on the appearance of the apes is so far beyond anything else in film right now. Their motion-capture work has swung to the top of the tree since the first film, and is quite possibly the pinnacle of motion capture to date. The biggest compliment you can possibly give Dawn’s animation is that you swiftly forget that these walking, talking apes are pixels painted over people in white-dot suits; their characters and performances are that damn good. In Koba, Toby Kebbell has created one of the most fearsome villains in some time, and this is quite possibly Andy Serkis’ best shot at Academy Award recognition. The one stumble in the effects is the climactic fight scene, which really fails to convince, looking more video game-y than anything cinematic
But despite the film excelling in many areas, it has some glaring flaws which keeps from achieving its full potential. The aforementioned predictability doesn’t exactly hinder Dawn too much, but there is an overlying lack of surprise which isn’t exactly preferable. It also suffers from some pacing problems, especially during the latter end which is a lot longer and a lot more static than it needs to be. The characterisation of the humans is probably the biggest hurdle that the film fails to clear. Whilst their ape counterparts are these fully realised, lush, detailed painting, the human survivors are barely sketched out or at most, given one coat of paint. Human leader Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) turns out to be slightly more than the raving apeist of the trailers, but Malcolm (Jason Clarke) could well have been replaced with a stick figure wearing a t-shirt stating “protective and idealist father”; he has no true arc, his views and motivations are the same from his first frame to the last, which is really rather dull in terms of narrative. When compared to the narrative strand of Will Rodman (James Franco) and his Alzheimer’s-suffering father (John Lithgow), which essentially drove the plot of the first film, the humans of Dawn pale in comparison.
But these Apes reboots continue to be far far better than they have any right to be. Dawn is definitely not a perfect film, nor an all-time great blockbuster, but it is assuredly engaging emotionally whilst also blowing any competition in the technical arena out of the water. What we have here is a very ambitious film in an already ambitious franchise, and an example of rebooting done right, and for that at the very least, it most definitely has to be applauded.
New: Images From Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes: Cesar with a sawn-off! Apes on horses! Gary Oldman! DOTPOTA actually seems like it might be that rarest of beasts; a franchise follow-up that’s actually decent.
Watch: First trailer for Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes: There’s really not a huge amount to say about this first look at DOTPOTA (which is a handily-pronounceable acronym of a title), other than it’s rather low on apes, but high on doomy BRRRM sounds - d’you think Nolan and Zimmer knew what effect they’d have on the film trailer when they introduced them in Inception? However, by the looks of it, humanity still has machine guns and Gary Oldman, so how the hell could we ever lose to a bunch of monkeys?
Based on a ‘true story’ (everybody roll your eyes and take it with a pinch of Hollywood salt), Lawless is a Depression-era gangster film-centered around the three legendary Bondurant brothers Jack (Shia LaBeouf), Howard (Jason Clarke) and Forrest (Tom Hardy). Fuelled by the belief that they are invincible since surviving an illness which killed their parents, they rule the prohibited moonshine bootlegging business until Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) steps on to the scene. So far then, we are treading on themes already covered in The Untouchables and the original Scarface, but relocated to a more of a deep south backdrop. So what should Lawless have that these films don’t?
As Forrest’s character says early on in the film, "It is not the violence that sets a man apart; it’s the distance he’s prepared to go". This sums up the film perfectly; it tries to show just how lawless these times are with extreme acts of violence on both the bootleggers and the authorities who try and get in their way. But it falls short because (perhaps I’m being cynical here), I’ve got so used to violent films at it really is a case of ‘just another guy getting his balls chopped off’. All of its plotlines are based on macho brawls that end up being cliches: from the runt-of-the-litter scenarios that Jack has to overcome to the no-nonsense Chicago gangster Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman), these are all variations of stories we have seen before.
The one character who stands out though is that of the eldest brother Forrest. Still beefed up from his role as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, Hardy is proving to be another formidable contender in the contemporary leading man stakes a la Gosling and Fassbender. He shows his character to be both intimidating enough for the police to be afraid of him, but also emotionally detached and even a bit socially awkward. My only quibble is, as with his portrayal Bane, the accent Hardy uses means it’s easier to mistake his line and just hear monosyllabic grunts (not to mention when he purposefully growls, that is just downright laughable).
Nonetheless, his is definitely the character you are most intrigued by and, in comparison, Forrest makes the other brothers seem like add-ons to fill the film out. And that leads me to another criticism; I know this film is about the boys but the female storylines just aren’t expanded on enough. For instance, there is no repercussions of Bertha’s (Mia Wasikowska) rebellion from the church and her relationship with her father is never properly explored. It’s like director John Hillcoat and writer Nick Cave (yes, that one) tried to cram too much into the the film at the beginning but realised it’s too long and cut it short. In fact, the whole film ends too abruptly and is ham-fisted in its conclusion. Perhaps there is a director’s cut somewhere in an editing room which gives the whole film time to breath.
Stylistically and acting-wise though, the film is top notch. The murky colour scheme of greys and browns is similar to Hillcoat’s previous film The Road, adding to the gloom and giving Lawless a period authenticity. Shia La Boeuf is back to playing more of a lose character, similar to the one he played so long ago in Holes, which suits him far more than his action hero stint in the Transformers franchise. Guy Pearce still remains one of my favourite and most underrated actors as he is simply so malleable and no two characters played by him are ever too similar, whilst Jessica Chastain who pulls off the challenge of holding her own next to Tom Hardy. Lawless may have some flaws, but on the whole it is not a bad film. It’s just one that you might feel like you’ve seen a handful of times before.
WATCH/// THE FINAL TRAILER FOR THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
Oh yes. It’s almost here. With the viral campaign kicking off yesterday, the final trailer for The Dark Knight Rises has been unveiled and it’s just as excitement inducing as you might expect. All the major players are seen; Christian Bale, Tom Hardy (who sounds a lot clear than previous footage), Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Marion Cotillard and Morgan Freeman, as well as some mouth-watering action, ominous dialogue and a proper look at Batman’s new ride…
And the prize for best alliterative film title goes to…
Whilst providing a few multiplex punters with a bit of a tongue-twister at the ticket booth, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy has undoubtedly been one of the most awaited films of the year, certainly to cinema connoisseurs. A dream cast, a skilled hot-property director (those familiar with Tomas Alfredson's directing style in Let The Right One In will be infinitely more comfortable going into this) and a highly acclaimed source material (John Le Carre's novel of the same name). What could go wrong?
Well not a lot really. As expected, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is one of the films of the year; a tense, twisting, slow burning, measured (oh boy, it’s measured as hell) spy thriller with enough intrigue and double crossing to fill at least three Bond films. On the surface it may appear like dour Oscar bait; which is a fair accusation, as it ain’t a feel-good film, and if it doesn’t garner at least a nomination or two, something is wrong with the universe. But hand over your pennies and you’ll experience a spy film that slowly unfurls with revelations and investigation replacing rooftop fights, shootouts on city streets and shakeycam; a proper whodunnit.
For the uninitiated, George Smiley (Gary Oldman), previously dismissed from his position from The Circus, is reinstated by the bigwigs to hunt out the mole in the organisation’s upper echelons. Enlisting his protege (Benedict Cumberbatch playing Peter Guillam) and old friend (Roger Lloyd-Pack as Mendel) to assist him, Smiley’s task leads him through botched missions, missing agents, double deals, a drunken Christmas party and more flashbacks than a Vietnam vet. It’s an engaging chess match of a film, one that requires full attention at all times. But if you do get lost in the espionage and intrigue, you can always just marvel at the stunning cinematography (up there with The Tree Of Life for the most sumptuous looking film of the year).
Truly, there isn’t a bad performance in the film. Yes, some characters do just have to sit around looking shady and little else, but even then they’re damn fine. Smiley may be a career best for Oldman, who’s been playing louder flashier characters for decades now (Sirius Black from Harry Potter, Commissioner Gordon from Batman, Stansfield in Leon, Zorg in The Fifth Element), but reins it all in for the mousy, ice-cool retired spy. An Oscar nomination is a must. Colin Firth shakes off the stigma of the terrible King’s Speech to give us what could be described as the anti-Bond; smug, lecherous and just a bit despicable. Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy's superb performances will no doubt bolster their fledgling repuations, whilst Mark Strong has another hit to add to his increasingly great CV as betrayed agent Jim Prideaux. John Hurt's good as ever, but that goes without saying; he's good in everything. Even the smaller roles have fantastic turns; Stephen Graham sneaks in almost unnoticed as office drone Jerry Westerby, Kathy Burke pops up in what turns out to be quite a pivotal character, and Simon Burney has good fun with the odious MP Oliver Lacon.
Few complaints can be levelled at Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Its labyrinthine plotting and slow-pacing will not be for everyone. The generation brought up on Bourne and Daniel Craig-era Bond will be lost in this bygone world of asking questions without kicking ass in the process, not parkouring across the city and without impossibly beautiful romantic interests who just happen to be scientists/spies etc. But Tinker Tailor Soldier Spyis ultimately rewarding experience for those who immerse themselves in its world. Plus, it’s the only film where you can see Sherlock beating up Bane. How can you refuse?
NEW TINKER TAILOR SOLDER SPY POSTER UNVEILED
I don’t there’s a film being released this year that we here at Hitsville are more excited about than Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (maybe Drive). With a cast including Gary Oldman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Tom Hardy and Colin Firth amongst others, there’s little chance of TTSS being anything less than great.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is released on September 16th.