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SCREENWASH – SEPTEMBER 2015 – FILM AND TV REVIEW ROUND-UP BY PAUL LAIGHT

SCREENWASH – SEPTEMBER 2015 – FILM AND TV REVIEW ROUND-UP BY PAUL LAIGHT

Bit late with this one but I have been doing some work for charity; although I prefer not to talk about it. Anyway, I saw shedloads of big and small screen product in September! So, here’s a quick review of some of things I witnessed with marks out of 11.

**HELL YEAH – THERE’S SPOILERS!**

’71 (2014) – AMAZON PRIME

Chase-thriller ’71 centres itself on a British soldier portrayed by Jack O’Connell who on the run in enemy territory finds himself pursued by nefarious parties from both Irish and British sides. It’s a kinetic and suspenseful film, directed with verve and urgency and contains some heart-stopping moments, as well as a fine cast including Sean Harris and Richard Dormer.  (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

BADLAND: A ROAD TO FURY (2014) – BLU-RAY

Called Young Ones in the States this is a real genre oddity as it combines Western and Science-Fiction tropes within a dystopic narrative set in a god-forsaken hellish dustbowl.  Michael Shannon is the father and farmer who tries his best to keep his family together in an unforgiving future. This is a very strange film which probably deserves another viewing to make real sense of what’s occurring; good cast though.  (6 out of 11)

BLEEDER (1999) – DVD

No one does brutal studies of lowlife like Nicolas Winding Refn. His early Danish films, Bleeder included, are grim character pieces that burst into nihilistic violence. This features four friends who watch films together but whose lives are coming apart at the seams. It’s bloody, depressing but somehow remains compelling and watchable; much like a car crash on the M4. (7 out of 11)

EVEREST (2015) – CINEMA

This is suspenseful mountain disaster film which shows both the folly and bravery of men and women at high altitude. Some of the moments will leave you biting your nails and gasping for breath as the mountaineering team scale the Himalayas. The most impressive aspect is the cast including: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Michael Kelly, Emily Watson, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes and more.   (7 out of 11)

THE DROP (2014) – NOW TV

Tom Hardy offers another brilliant piece of character work as a Boston barman who works in a mob-owned pub. He finds himself threatened by local scumbag Matthias Schoenaerts over the disputed ownership of a dog. The puppy is very well cast but Hardy and James Gandolfini own the show with a sterling study of masculinity and controlled rage. (8 out of 11)

THE GAMBLER (2014) – BLU RAY

Great dialogue, direction and cast couldn’t stop me from hating the nihilistic lead character played by a miscast and too-nice Mark Wahlberg. He was such a miserable-death-wish cunt that I wanted the gangsters who were chasing him to kill him and save me from having to watch anymore of his irredeemable and depressing loser. (4 out of 11)

GOING CLEAR (2014) – NOW TV

This is an astounding documentary revealing the history, psychology and inner-workings of the Scientology “religion”. It’s an amazing expose with interviews from former members of the cult who having disconnected, found themselves stalked and discredited by the extremely paranoid Scientologists. It is compelling viewing for anyone interested in religion or alleged cults and the financial dealings of the group makes them akin to organised crime syndicate, such is their wealth and violent ways of dealing with “members”.   (9 out of 11)

GOMORRAH (2014) – NOW TV

Gomorrah is one of the best TV dramas I’ve seen all year. It is a brutal and violent Italian gangster drama set in Naples and like modern day Roman times but with more plots, blood and murder. It follows the Savastano family and the enemies they face both on the right and wrong side of the law. No one is safe as the series reaches a deathly climax. Gripping stuff and highly recommended!  (10 out of 11)

 

GRAVE ENCOUNTERS (2011) – AMAZON PRIME

If I had the choice of removing my genitals with a cheese grater or watching this film again I would choose the grater as this was just laughable. Neither scary or suspenseful it has loud shouting actors who should be shot with high-powered rifles rather than a camera. Basically only for people who like terrible found footage horror films or the mentally ill. (1 out of 11)

LEGEND (2015) – CINEMA

Tom Hardy is phenomenal as the Kray twins. Set in 60s London’s underworld this begins like a smack-bang gangster film before delving deeper into the psychology of mental illness of Ronnie Kray’s wife and his crazed brother, Ronnie. Tonally it gets caught between cartoon humour, glamourizing violence and serious crime drama but recommended for the lead performance. Indeed, Tom Hardy, as in Bronson (2008), humanizes monstrous criminals who probably don’t deserve it. (7.5 out of 11)

THE NECESSARY DEATH OF CHARLIE COUNTRYMEN – BLU RAY

A diabolically pretentious and awful Euro-drama which didn’t know if it was a comedy or gangster or rites of passage or study of grief type movie!  Ultimately it tried them all and failed in every aspect! Avoid!  (2 out of 11)

PADDINGTON (2014) – BLU RAY

I loved Paddington as a kid and the dulcet tones of Michael Hordern narrated the 2-D animated tales with warmth and charm.  The funky film version is an even bigger delight with Ben Whishaw, Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville collaborating beautifully with Paul King’s terrific script and lovely direction. The animation is a joy and the gag-rate incredibly high in a wonderful feel-good family film. (8 out of 11)

 

RIFIFI (1955) – NETFLIX (RE-WATCH)

This is a classic French crime drama from which involves the robbery of a jewellery store by a gang of ex-cons.  It’s memorable for the long-near-silent robbery sequence in the middle act which is full of suspense and hold-your-breath moments.  I loved that they humanized the criminals and the characters at the start and the robbery scene is often imitated but never bettered. (8 out of 11)

RUBBER (2011) – AMAZON PRIME

Bizarre horror-comedy which cannot under any circumstances be recommended unless you like fourth-wall-breaking-art-films-about-murderous-tyres-who-explode-birds-and-humans-with-telekinetic-powers. Actually, it’s also a satire on the nature of Hollywood filmmaking and an audience starved of originality; I think!  (8 out of 11)

 

RUN ALL NIGHT (2015) – DVD

Liam Neeson is a drunken, washed-up mob enforcer who faces a race against time to save his estranged son (Joel Kinnaman) and his young family.  It’s pretty generic fayre in which a grizzled Neeson can do in his sleep but it has some crunching action, car-chases and shoot-outs which fizz along impressively at a breakneck pace.  (7 out of 11)

  

SALVATION (2014) – SKY MOVIES

Mads Mikkelsen could not save The Necessary Death of Charlie Countrymen but his quiet power is very much to the fore in this colourful revenge Western.  He portrays a Danish former soldier whose wife and son are butchered by Jeffery Dean Morgan’s dastardly men, precipitating a path of bloody retribution. (7 out of 11)

THE WOLFPACK (2014) – CINEMA

A very interesting documentary about a huge family of boys and one girl who were kept as virtual prisoners in their own New York high-rise apartment by an alcoholic, bullying and eccentric father. The boys retained their sanity just about as they sought movies as a means to connect with society. The parodies they act out such as Pulp Fiction and Dark Knight were hilarious. But there is much pathos as both the children and Mother are tragic figures too having been “lost” and imprisoned by, quite frankly, a pathetic excuse for a father. (7.5 out of 11)

WHITECHAPEL (2009 – 2012 – Seasons 1-3) – NETFLIX

Started watching this during the quiet times at work and got pretty gripped by the East End murder cases investigated by Rupert Penry-Jones, Phil Davis and Steve Pemberton. It’s a well-made addition to the over-loaded detective genre which by Season 3 had some excellent suspense and drama. I was especially drawn in by Davis and Penry-Jones water-oil relationship and the latter’s OCD. (7 out of 11)

WYRMWOOD: ROAD OF THE DEAD (2015) – AMAZON PRIME

This is a really fun zombie-road-movie-gore-fest which is clearly inspired by Mad Max, Evil Dead, Braindead and George Romero’s oeuvre. Some lovely blood-gushing gore and imaginative machinery on show makes this low budget horror-comedy well worth a rental. (7 out of 11)

 

GREAT ENSEMBLE FILM CASTS #1 – BY PAUL LAIGHT

GREAT ENSEMBLE FILM CASTS #1 – BY PAUL LAIGHT

Movie stars are usually the Kings and Queens of a film! They propel the narrative and guarantee bums on seats when a film opens. They also create expectation and word of mouth buzz thus studios have invested heavily over the decades in icons such as:  Al Pacino, Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood, George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Tom Cruise, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Marilyn Monroe, Meryl Streep, Sylvester Stallone, James Cagney, Mel Gibson to name but a few.

I love movie star driven cinema, however, I’m also a big fan of the ensemble casts seen in genre films such as: comic book epics, crime thrillers, war films and Westerns.  What an ensemble cast offers is a diverse set of characters and actors bouncing off one another to powerful effect. Most recently the mountain disaster film Everest (2015) had fine actors including: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Michael Kelly, Emily Watson, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes and more.   Thus, just for the hell of it I’ve picked out some of my favourite films which contained not just one big star but lots of fine actors who all combined to make a fantastic movie experience.

12 ANGRY MEN (1957)

Bona fide classic movie adapted from the TV play by Reginald Rose and directed by the legendary filmmaker Sidney Lumet.  The claustrophobic nature of a jury arguing over a murder case is brought to the boil by a superlative Henry Fonda and sterling character actors such as: Jack Klugman, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam and Robert Webber.  It’s a real festival of acting full of sweat, anger, conscience, guilt and doubt.

AVENGERS ASSEMBLE (2012)

Joss Whedon’s Marvel behemoth broke all kinds of box office records across the world! It’s a humdinger of a movie with a cracking cast that included: Robert Downey Jnr, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston and many more!  In fact, I’m surprised the set didn’t collapse under the weight of all the egos in front of camera.

GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014)

It’s cameo cast central in Wes Anderson’s fast-paced eccentric comedy with Ralph Fiennes leading the line-up with a terrific central performance. Also, tagging along for the quirky and colourful ride are such acting luminaries as: F. Murray Abraham, Willem Defoe, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Jude Law, Edward Norton, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Tom Wilkinson and Owen Wilson. Blink and you’ll probably miss some of them!

 

INCEPTION (2010)

Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending heist thriller features a dream cast. Or does it!  Yes – it does!  It’s a Hollywood pot-pourri of movie stars such as Leonard DiCaprio, Oscar winner Marion Cotillard, star-in-the-making Tom Hardy, veteran character actors like Tom Berenger and Michael Caine and feisty starlet Ellen Page.

 

LA CONFIDENTIAL (1997)

While the careers of Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce and Kevin Spacey have gone up and down in various measures recently this brilliant crime film found them on the rise up the Hollywood ladder. Here they play a trio of very different detectives investigating movie lookalikes, murder and police corruption in Los Angeles. Throw in the likes of Kim Basinger, James Cromwell and Danny Devito and you have a cast to literally die for.

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960)

The cast of this classic Seven Samurai remake is remarkable as in, aside from Yul Brynner, they were all pretty much unknown at time of filming. So, kudos to the casting team who recruited such a charismatic troupe including: Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Coburn; who would all become stars in their own right.

 

MAGNOLIA (1999)

Take your pick from Paul Thomas Anderson’s films which ALWAYS have excellent casts. I am in no doubt actors are drawn to the narcissistic and existential angst which inhabits the characters’. Boogie Nights (1997) is one of my favourite films but Magnolia with – Tom Cruise, Philip Baker Hall, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Alfred Molina, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Jason Robards – just wins out for best cast for me.

MEANTIME (1984)

Not a large ensemble cast but a brilliant one nonetheless.  In Mike Leigh’s quintessentially British council estate film we get three young British stars in Gary Oldman, Tim Roth and Phil Daniels plus Alfred Molina and Pam Ferris too.  Each character drowns in depression, awash in concrete, unemployment and the stench of piss-stinking lifts and cigarette-stained wallpaper. This is a sad, funny, low-budget 1980s kitchen-sink classic.

 

THE OUTSIDERS (1983)

Similar to The Magnificent Seven this is a “before they were famous deal” with an incredible cast who would come to known in the 1980s as The Brat Pack. C. Thomas Howell, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Matt Dillon, Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Ralph Macchio, and Diane Lane all starred in this tragic rites of passage story about teenage gangs and friendship. All the actors when on to have decent careers; but what ever happened to that Tom Cruise guy though?!?

PULP FICTION (1994)

Tarantino, of course, is not only about the cracking dialogue and violence and homages to other movie styles and genre but he also knows how to cast a movie.  He rarely has a big film star at the helm of his films but rather relies on a mixture of known stars in supporting roles, character actors, plus fading or B-movie journeymen. Often, actors are cast on ability and suitability rather than saleability such as Pam Grier and Christophe Waltz. His keen casting eye gave us a wonderful Samuel L. Jackson – up until then limited to mainly supporting roles – and also relaunched John Travolta’s flagging career in the imperious ensemble crime film Pulp Fiction.

SHORT CUTS (1993)

Robert Altman is the “King” of the ensemble drama as demonstrated with Nashville (1975), Mash (1970 and The Player (1993). His films often poked into the American underbelly psychoanalysing the mores of the various classes.  His work would have a massive influence on Paul Thomas Anderson and actors clearly considered it a badge of honour to act for him. Short Cuts was adapted from  Raymond Carver’s work and the cast included: Julianne Moore, Fred Ward, Anne Archer, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Robert Downey, Jr., Madeleine Stowe, Chris Penn, Jack Lemmon, Frances McDormand, Andie MacDowell, Lily Tomlin and many more.

 

TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY (2011)

This spy thriller contains a “Who’s-Who” of British acting talent. We have Commissioner Gordon, Bane, Sherlock Holmes, King George VI, Doctor Who, Truman Capote and even Trigger from Only Fools and Horses acting in between the shadows of murky British Intelligence espionage.  It’s a tricky watch as the director goes for atmosphere over exposition but the sheer style and quality of the performances ensure espionage has never been so intriguing.

 

FIFTEEN MEMORABLE MOVIE MOMENTS FROM 2014 by PAUL LAIGHT

FIFTEEN MEMORABLE MOVIE MOMENTS FROM 2014

BY

PAUL LAIGHT

In no particular order here are FIFTEEN moments, actors, scenes, characters, set-pieces, dialogue etc. which stuck in my noggin during the year of 2014.

SET-PIECE OF 2014 – QUIKSILVER SCENE IN FORT KNOX DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014)

VISION – JONATHAN GLAZER – UNDER THE SKIN (2013)

Glazer showed that with a low budget, vision and  powerful concept you could genuinely move, surprise, creep and capture the imagination of an audience.  Sparse and enigmatic this film was my best of the year while scene on the beach was one of the most harrowing I ever seen. I hope this filmmaker doesn’t leave such a gap following the under-rated Birth (2004) ten years prior.


VILLAIN – MARTON CSOKAS – THE EQUALIZER (2014)

This okay-Denzil Washington-violent-80s-remake was lifted above the parapet by a stunning turn by Marton Csokas as the main evil Russian stereotype.  I had a lot of fun with his actoring as he  scoffed not just the furniture but the upholstery as well.

KICKING ASS – EMILY BLUNT – EDGE OF TOMORROW (2014)

Doug Liman’s very entertaining sci-fi movie turned the gender tables with Blunt playing the action hero. Of course, the universe could not sustain such a polarity and in the final act Cruise’s initial anti-heroism was blown away. But it was good while it lasted!

FUNNIEST USE OF AIR BAGS – BAD NEIGHBOURS (2014)


BEST FIGHT SCENE IN A LIFT – CAPTAIN AMERICA: TWS (2014)


WORST BEST MAN’S SPEECH EVER – TRUE DETECTIVE (2014)

Take it away Nic Pizzolatto and McConaughey in the best monologue of the year.

 HAIR – AMERICAN HUSTLE (2013)

A funny and suspenseful character-led con story found Bale, Lawrence, Cooper and Adams chewing up the scenery. However, their scenes were quite often stolen by their hairstyles and toupees.

STYLE – INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (2013)

Not much happened in this story of a failed folk musician grieving for a lost friend. But the whole design, look, colour, cinematography, music, period setting and cast made it an utter joy from start to end.

AWE-INSPIRING VISUALS – INTERSTELLAR (2014)

I have only seen this film once but had very big problems with the script but there is no taking away the incredible visuals on show. It was the storytelling and what the humans were saying I took issue with.

DEPICTION OF ADDICTION – THORIN OAKENSHIELD
THE HOBBIT: BATTLE OF THE 5 ARMIES (2014)

Peter Jackson dug into his box of magic tricks to pull off ANOTHER Tolkien-inspired series of battles. But it was Thorin’s battle with his addiction to gold which I connected with most.

BEST WAR – DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014)

Arguably one of the most enduring images of the year was Koba riding into battle with fire burning behind him capturing the passion and anger of the character and intensity of battle raging at the time.

Dawn-of-the-Planet-of-the-Apes-2

 ONE TAKE – TRUE DETECTIVE (2014)

MOST COMPELLING CHARACTER
LOU BLOOM/JAKE GYLLENTHAL – NIGHTCRAWLER (2014)

DRUGS – WOLF OF WALL STREET (2014)

MY EIGHT FAVOURITEST FILMS OF 2014 BY PAUL LAIGHT

MY EIGHT FAVOURITEST CINEMA FILMS OF 2014

BY

PAUL LAIGHT

In 2014 I set myself a project which was to write a review for every film I saw at the cinema and post on my blog.  I viewed TWENTY-EIGHT films at the cinema in 2014 and pretty much achieved my writing goal aside from one anomaly which is in hand.

Why EIGHT you may ask?  Well, I wanted to put a bit of pressure on myself to really nail these choices and TOP TEN’S are a bit obvious too.  Of course there are loads of films I DID NOT see plus many, many more films I did see on DVD, Netflix and Sky but you can only judge a films’ true qualities by watching it on the big screen.

So, these are my TOP EIGHT FAVOURITEST CINEMA FILMS OF 2014. They are maybe not necessarily the most-awards-friendly-critically- acclaimed films hence but they are the ones which completely blew me away when I saw them.  They are ALL films I saw at the cinema BUT for one which is a TV movie.  If you’ve seen it you’ll know why it’s on the list.

For the record the list will include:  the film title; link to original review; quote from post; and a clip.

**MASSIVE SPOILERS**

  1. UNDER THE SKIN (2013) – Director: JONATHAN GLAZER

UNIQUE filmmaking comes along every so often into the Multiplexes. This is cinematic Art of the highest quality, a sheer visual treat and an unnerving and very memorable experience…

..like all great art it stayed with me and I could not get it out of my mind. And I still can’t. It’s not a super-hero film. It’s not a date movie. It’s not a 3-D CGI sick-fest. It’s pure, pulsing, hypnotic cinema of the highest quality…”

2.  TRUE DETECTIVE (2014) – Creator: NIC PIZZOLATTO – Director: CARY FUKUNAGA

**Yes I know this wasn’t on the cinema but it should’ve been!**

“Writer Nic Pizzolatto delivers a corrupt vision of humanity,
Amidst the Cajun swamps we’re in David Fincher territory,
Standard cop stuff like the Chief screaming “you’re off the case!”,
Is deftly masked by Cary Fukunaga’s directorial style and pace,

McConaughey’s Rust Cohle is post-modern Sherlock,
He will never cease until the mystery is unlocked,
Allied with Harrelson’s Watson the two just won’t stop,
Title may say True Detective but it should be Existential Cop!”

3.  NIGHTCRAWLER (2014) – Director: DAN GILROY

“Bloom was a ghost; a shell of a man with little in the way of backstory and yet through his actions we absorb the horror of his character. I was drawn in so much by Gyllenthaal’s magnetic performance as well as a fine supporting cast… Through Bloom the parasitic press and public are shown to both be vampires draining the life out of humanity. WE ARE ALL MONSTERS AT HEART!”

4.   CAPTAIN AMERICA – THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014) – Directors: RUSSO BROTHERS

“Captain America: TWS delivers in a way The Avengers did. Although it’s a darker, grounded and more complex film as the screenplay transplants the story of conspiracy thriller Three Days of the Condor (1975) into the Marvel Universe… links well the past and present; soldiers attempting to come to terms with post-war issues; Roger’s regret over historical events and a touching Benjamin Buttonesque scene with a character from the first movie. Moreover, there’s also some neat socio-political commentary in their too with references to shadowy NSA operations and Government kill lists.  Of course none of this gets in the way of the rip-roaring action.”

5.   WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013) – Director: MARTIN SCORCESE

“Martin Scorcese is one of the greatest living filmmakers still working today and The Wolf of Wall Street feels like a greatest hits package combining all of the finer ingredients from his other films.  You’ve got the classic swooning camera moves;  the direct address to camera; cat-and-dog couples fighting as seen in Casino and Goodfellas; the boat-in-peril sequence as seen in Cape Fear; the multi-character voiceovers;  the dumb criminals putting themselves in the shit;   characters turning on each other and ratting each other out as seen most recently in The Departed; plus many more.” 

6.  GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014) – Director: JAMES GUNN

“I loved this film for so many reasons.  It’s a nostalgic rush and push of music, action, fantastical creatures, space operatics, zinging one-liners, knowing humour, spectacular effects and in Chris Pratt — a new cinema star (lord) for the millennium is born.  Let’s be honest there isn’t an original bone in its body but the fleshy pastiche and meaty cultural references Guardians of the Galaxy wears proudly on its sleeves take the audience on one hell of a journey”

7.   DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014) – Director: MATT REEVES

“… the original book and 1968 film and gave us some serious action and brain-food encompassing themes and historical events such as: Darwinism; dystopic future visions; civil and social unrest; slavery; man’s inhumanity to animals; medical experimentation; the Vietnam and Cold war; civilisation versus savagery; anthropology; Frankenstein myth; space and time travel; and many other socio-political and science fictional motifs.  Overall, the Apes series is a conceptual and cultural phenomenon and Dawn of the Planet is a wonderful addition to the series.”

8.   THE IMITATION GAME (2014) – Director: MORTEN TYLDUM

“There is so much heartache in the character of Turing.  The flashbacks to Turing’s school years when he was bullied and suffered personal loss garners further pathos. Moreover, the “peas and carrots” scene alludes to the possibility of Turing having Asperger’s or similar high-functioning autism.  And in Benedict Cumberbatch we have an actor who imbues Turing with a grandiose pain which I found genuinely moving. Here’s is an actor — who while cornering the market on misfit geniuses — once again shows terrific range and surely he will be nominated come Awards ceremony time.”

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014) – FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

**SPOLIERS AHOY**

Film great. Humans crap.

In my last review I compared going to the cinema like going to a restaurant.  For this review I am going to use another tenuous analogy and say going to the cinema is my equivalent of going to Church.  The director/writer/filmmakers are in my eyes GOD!  The actors are the Priests spreading the word while the popcorn is the body of Christ with Tango or Coca-Cola as the blood. Not that I drink fizzy drinks or sugary  any more as I am currently winning an ongoing dispute between my will power and several unhealthy food addictions.

Anyway, what I’m saying is the Cinema is my holy sanctuary — it means THAT much to me. So if you want to use your phone (texting or going online) or talk about something on your phone such as the latest photo of your own arsehole then I will strike down upon thee with furious vengeance! Well I will ask you to shut up or get out!

In the war between humans’ and apes I was already on the Apes’ side following the excellent blockbuster Rise of the Planet of the Apes  (2011) and even more so after witnessing its’ superlative sequel. Indeed, with the insane ongoing wars, environmental issues, pollution, fracking, plane crashes, arms dealing, dodgy press, corrupt governments, genocide and other disasters such as selfish phone wankers talking at the cinema perhaps it’s time for a change on Earth; a clean slate maybe?  Maybe the apes and other animals deserve a chance of owning this planet and giving peace a chance; something humanity seems incapable of sustaining.

If you didn’t know the Planet of the Apes franchise originated from Pierre Boulle’s wonderfully conceived 1963 novel La Planete des singes  and spawned a plethora of films, merchandise, TV shows, comics, novelisations, comic books, posters and even an animated series.  In the late 60s and 70s they didn’t just milk the cash cow they drained the blood and sold off its’ organs and body parts to an ever hungry audience thirsty for another instalment.

Irrespective of the sloping quality of the various guises it took the intelligence raised in the original source and gave us some serious action and brain-food encompassing themes and historical events such as: Darwinism; dystopic and apocalyptic future visions; civil and social unrest; slavery; man’s inhumanity to animals; medical experimentation; the Vietnam and Cold war; civilisation versus savagery; anthropology; The Frankenstein myth; space and time travel; and many other socio-political and science fictional motifs.  It’s a conceptual and cultural phenomenon. And Dawn of the Planet is a wonderful addition to the series.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes begins a few years AFTER Caesar led the apes’ escape from captivity depicted so entertainingly in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. He, his wife and children are now living in reasonable harmony in a huge commune of orang-u-tan, gorillas and chimpanzees.  As suggested at the end of the first movie humans have succumbed to a virus which has wiped them off the planet leaving only those with vascular immunity still alive.  These are lead by family man Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Gary Oldman’s Dreyfus; a man — who like many others — has lost his family to the virus and subsequent societal breakdown. The dramatic meat of the story begins to cook when the apes are disturbed by a party of humans looking for a new energy source via a Dam in the forest.

The film is a real slow-burner as it establishes the rivalry between the apes and humans as they initially form an uneasy truce before outright war eventually begins.  Indeed the first hour or so is very much given to establishing character dynamics with Caesar’s (phenomenal Andy Serkis) leadership of the apes questioned by the scarred Koba (brilliant Toby Kebbell).  This too is reflected in the more peaceful Malcolm seeking to avoid war and co-exist with the apes as opposed to Dreyfus who sees them as nothing more than savage beasts.  Thus the four main protagonists are very rounded and keenly drawn although one criticism of the film is the lack of a powerful female character and one may say, Oldman aside, the humans are a little bland overall. An accusation I cannot say about the apes who are rendered incredibly by the massive special effect team at WETA.

By allowing the slow build up characters, spiked by some in-fighting in each of the camps, the tension rises and anticipation of the battle rises to fever pitch.  It is Koba who precipitates the war as he is driven by his anger at being experimented on by humans’ years before.  While Caesar leads with majesty and quiet authority, Koba is driven by revenge, pain and hate and this passion drives him to attack the humans with full ape force.  What follows is one of the most memorable set-pieces I have seen at the cinema this year with apes smashing down the human compound with violent abandon.  The image of a dual-gunned Koba rampaging on horseback as fire burns behind him is a cinematic moment which will stay in my memory for sometime.

Matt Reeves is an excellent genre filmmaker and he maintains the great standard set by Rupert Wyatt from Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Reeves, the writers, cast and his battalion of special effects people have produced an intelligent blockbuster which keeps the drama burning throughout culminating in a stupendous battle sequence at the end.  The film is a portent telling us once again that humans will reap suffering if they continue to tamper with nature in the name of progress.  It also reflects the importance of family, acceptance and tolerance of others in order find peace; war and in particular gorilla warfare (sorry) is not the way forward.  There’s one soppy and jarring bit of script coincidence where Caesar goes back to the house he grew up in but that was not enough to ruin another excellent film inspired by Boulle’s literary classic. Those still haunted by Tim Burton’s atrocious 2001 effort will be very grateful for this entry in the franchise. Altogether now: Hail Caesar! Hail Caesar!