Film Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

Release Date: June 26th, 2014 (Palace of Fine Arts premiere)
Directed by: Matt Reeves
Written by: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Based on: characters created by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Pierre Boulle
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Andy Serkis, Jason Clark, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Judy Greer, Kirk Acevedo, James Franco (cameo)

Chernin Entertainment, TSG Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 130 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2014.

“I always think… ape better than human. I see now… how much like them we are.” – Caesar

I was a little late going to see this one in the theater but I’ve had a lot going on. Regardless, here I am a week late with my two cents on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

To start, I know that this is a pretty profound statement, but this may be the best Planet of the Apes film to date. There have been seven films before this one and a television series but this film really captures the essence and the whole point of the franchise better than anything else before it. Sure, Charlton Heston fighting apes is a bad ass scenario and the focal point of the original film, unarguably a classic, but this movie trumps it in character, in story, in action and in soul.

The first film in this reboot series was a breath of fresh air after the mediocre Tim Burton attempt at a reboot a decade earlier. Dawn takes that story even further and with the origin already established, is able to throw it all on the line and just get down to business. From the opening scene all the way to the epic end, this film is action filled and drama filled. Both are perfectly balanced and very well executed. The drama gives you more than enough to truly care and the action gives you more than enough to pump your fist to.

The acting is superb but the greatest performance comes from Andy Serkis who plays the lead ape, Caesar. Serkis deserves an Oscar for this and really most of his performances, most notably Gollum from the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films. Unfortunately, the Academy doesn’t yet recognize the performances of actors who play digital characters. However, they aren’t just digital characters, they are created by using motion capture technology – digitizing the actors’ movements and facial expressions. When you see Caesar’s body language and facial expressions, you know that you are looking at a great performance that brings a level of realism and humanity to what would otherwise be a flat digital creation. Hopefully films like this get the Academy to introduce an award for these performances.

Back to the topic of the film itself, director Matt Reeves made his best film to date. That makes me incredibly excited for the upcoming sequel, which he is also directing. Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Gary Oldman did a phenomenal job as the three main humans in the film. Toby Kebbell, who played the ape Koba, performed on a level very close to Andy Serkis. Koba and Caesar’s interactions were very real and compelling.

As far as special effects, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes relies heavily on CGI over more practical effects but it doesn’t overemphasize it more than it needs to. The effects are also fluid and fine tuned to the point that you get lost in the story and the action, as nothing feels out of place or so artificial that it is really noticeable.

As good as X-men: Days of Future Past was, this may be the best film of the summer and possibly the year.

Film Review: War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

Release Date: July 10th, 2017 (SVA Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Matt Reeves
Written by: Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves
Based on: characters created by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Judy Greer, Toby Kebbell

Chernin Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 140 Minutes

Review:

“I did not start this war. But I will finish it.” – Caesar

I’ll be honest, I’ve never disliked a Planet of the Apes movie. Yes, I even found enjoyment in the Tim Burton one with Mark Wahlberg from almost two decades ago. The current series of films has also been pretty spectacular. I wouldn’t expect this one to be any different, especially after reading the great reviews and seeing how excited the fans were after checking it out. I’m a bit late with this review, as I was in Las Vegas for work all of last week, but I made this a priority once getting back to my normal schedule.

War for the Planet of the Apes is absolutely incredible. Nowadays, I try not to build up expectations in my head, before seeing a film, due to countless times where I have been massively disappointed. Truthfully, this picture exceeds whatever I could have anticipated.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the plot. Based off of the marketing, it seemed like it would be more of the same from the previous film but realistically, this is its own story and differs greatly from any Apes picture before it. It isn’t just all out war between apes and man, it is a story of one ape’s quest for justice against a lone man who just happens to lead an army. In a lot of ways, this plays more like a gritty spaghetti western than any other film genre.

I’m glad that the trailer didn’t really give the gist of the story away and it focused on the big action sequences. Granted, that is what gets asses in seats for summer blockbusters. It is just refreshing to see a film come out and still have some surprises and tricks up its sleeve without the trailer spoiling the whole thing.

One of the film’s many great aspects that I was really impressed with was the score. It was a real throwback to a time when films had powerful music and distinct themes. Blockbusters today have pretty generic and canned music that just doesn’t resonate or capture the imagination like the big films of the 1970s and 1980s. For example, you can probably remember the theme for Superman or Batman from that era but I bet you can’t even think of what Iron Man or Captain America’s themes sound like. Hell, do they even have distinct themes? The score done by Michael Giacchino for this film is astounding and it really encapsulated the spaghetti western vibe of the picture while still maintaining a consistency with the scores of the previous two Apes films. It did stick out like a sore thumb at times but that is due to how unbelievably good it was. It carried an instantaneous realization of just how mundane modern film scores are, which is only to show how powerful, meaningful and magnificent this film’s music is.

Additionally, the cinematography is utterly breathtaking. The huge shots of landscapes and wilderness are majestic. The snowy forests create a totally different tone as the film progresses and it sets it apart visually, from the previous two chapters in this Apes series. The film is cold and bleak but there is always that glimmer of hope, as if spring is just around the corner.

The CGI effects are some of the best I have ever seen. Where just a few years ago, CGI characters still didn’t fully look real and it could be a bit of a distraction, you never question the authenticity of what your seeing on screen. In fact, the apes in this picture are at the forefront more so than the previous two movies that relied on a bigger human element to propel the story forward.

War for the Planet of the Apes is the perfect end to this series of three films. It truly creates a three act trilogy that is powerful, moving and the best overall iteration of the Planet of the Apes franchise. Sure, the original 1968 movie is a classic but its sequels never quite lived up to it. With this series, each film progressively gets better. Granted, the door is left open for more movies but a fourth one will most likely have a clean slate after the events of this chapter.

This film, more than any other, really adds more credibility to the argument that the Academy Awards need to start recognizing the acting performances of those playing digital characters. Andy Serkis never disappoints and from an acting standpoint, this film is the greatest thing he has ever done and this statement comes from a guy who adored his role as Gollum form The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies.

War for the Planet of the Apes is the best film in the entire franchise. The original was damn good and still holds up incredibly well but this new picture is truly exceptional. The acting, the direction, the cinematography, the score, the plot: all of it is as close to perfect as you can get in a film with so many fast moving parts. It has more emotional weight than any of the eight Apes pictures before it and it embodies the entire spirit of the series.

At this point in the year, War for the Planet of the Apes may be 2017’s best motion picture. And honestly, 2017 is panning out to be a much better year for film than I had anticipated or hoped for.

Film Review: Fantastic Four (2015)

Release Date: August 4th, 2015 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Josh Trank
Written by: Jeremy Slater, Simon Kinberg, Josh Trank
Based on: Fantastic Four by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: Marco Beltrami, Philip Glass
Cast: Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell

Marvel Entertainment, Constantin Film, Marv Films, Robert Kulzer Productions, TSG Entertainment, Kinberg Genre, 20th Century Fox, 100 Minutes

Review:

*originally written in 2015.

“There is no Victor… there is only Doom!” – Victor Domashev

This film has been panned by fans for months, even though it just now came out. Critics have also been panning it now for about a week. So is this film the big shitfest that many people have anticipated?

Well, the photo I used in this review was the most exciting I could find of this film and it is pretty boring and uninspiring (*I replaced this with the poster). But I do like looking at Kate Mara – there she is, to the left. I’m not sure why but something about her is alluring. But I’m a guy and pretty is a weakness for us.

No matter what though, this film can’t be as bad as all of its predecessors, right? This is the third attempt at a live action Fantastic Four film. They should’ve gotten things right on this attempt, right?

The answer is “no.”

But let me start by saying that this film is not as horrible as many people want you to believe. It certainly isn’t worth the 4.4 on IMDb or the 3/10 on JoBlo. It isn’t as bad as other awful comic book films – the worst that come to mind being Catwoman and Elektra. This film was better than the previous Fantastic Four films. Granted, not by much but at least they didn’t fight a hungry fucking space cloud or Doctor Doom on a flying surfboard.

Sure, the final battle in this movie was also horrible, I can’t excuse it. The barren rocky world they were on and the fact that Doctor Doom acted like a false god while telekinetically altering the topography of this planet was reminiscent of the final battle from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, which if you remember, was the absolute worst Star Trek film featuring the original cast. Except, that film was more imaginative and had more soul than this new Fantastic Four. This film had no soul. And if it had a soul, it’d be the soul of a manila folder. Because those are the boringest damn things I can think of.

I don’t hate this movie but more likely than not, I will never watch it again and I hope a sequel is never made. I didn’t like the direction, the dialogue must have been written by a middle school kid and the acting was mostly crap. The sets were boring, the effects were boring, the characters were boring, their costumes were boring and being that bored with everything got pretty boring. If anything, this film was a fantastic bore.

Doctor Doom looked like a humanoid creature made of garbage collected after a rave at a tin foil factory. He also had ridiculous powers that allowed him to telekinetically make people’s heads explode like the aliens from Mars Attacks when they were confronted with Slim Whitman music. Doom could also move the Earth. He was like that shitty villain from season four of Heroes but with godlike powers added in. I’m not even really sure what the hell Doom was – before or after the transformation.

I’m kind of all over the place with this review, as the film was all over the place. My brain is scrambled from this film. Also, my popcorn was shitty.

Anyway, I am already pretty damn bored talking about this boring turd. So I’m going to go get drunk now and hope that the bourbon erases this experience from my memory.

Film Review: Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Release Date: February 28th, 2017 (Odeon Leicester Square premiere)
Directed by: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Written by: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly, John Gatnis
Based on: King Kong by James Creelman, Ruth Rose, Merian C. Cooper, Edgar Wallace
Music by: Henry Jackman
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann, Terry Notary, John C. Reilly, Robert Taylor

Legendary Pictures, Tencent Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, 118 Minutes

Review:

I guess I will forever have a personal connection to this film, as the cigar box that Samuel L. Jackson’s Col. Packard keeps his medals in, is one that I designed in 2004. Strange that a product I had a hand in creating a decade ago ended up in a film that takes place just after the Vietnam War.

Personal connection aside, it should be no surprise to anyone who regularly reads Cinespiria, that I am a massive fan of kaiju movies. So anything with giant monsters is always a treat, especially when it comes with a cast of actors as strong as those in Kong: Skull Island.

While I liked Legendary Pictures’ Godzilla from 2014, it lacked a certain spirit that the giant scaly kaiju always seemed to have in his Japanese films. Kong: Skull Island is also missing that spirit. While it feels like there is some heart put into the film, it was sacrificed for action and the current trend of making films as big and as loud as possible. It is also a CGI fest that doesn’t always work, as it sometimes looks spectacular and other times looks shoddy.

Kong is still a great conflicted character that you feel for, and I guess, to me, that is always the most important part of any Kong story. In this film, you learn that his family was killed by the giant reptiles that live under the island. You even have a scene where our heroes come across a graveyard where the bones of Kong’s parents are on display. You certainly care for the big hulking CGI ape, which is good at building the foundation for what the studio plans to do after this film. Ultimately, we will get to a Godzilla and King Kong showdown after the next solo Godzilla movie.

I thought it was great that this film is just shy of two hours. The Peter Jackson King Kong from 2005 was a tremendous bore at well over three hours and Hollywood has had this trend of making big blockbusters a lot longer than they need to be.

In regards to the story, the setup and the purpose for going to the island is well orchestrated. Once we get to the island however, things move too fast and are very disjointed. I feel like the reveal of Kong came too early. Maybe Legendary Pictures were trying to makeup for the lack of Godzilla in Godzilla but it was too much, too soon in this picture. Seeing Kong destroy a fleet of helicopters minutes after they arrive was surprising. While this Kong doesn’t follow the traditional storylines of its predecessors, Kong typically doesn’t really arrive until the halfway point of his films. Even in the first Toho Kong film from Japan, it was a good third of the way through the movie before the giant ape showed up to crush a giant octopus.

The cast, as great as the ensemble is, wasn’t that exciting to watch. It almost feels like a Marvel movie though, as it features four actors from the Avengers film franchise: Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), John C. Reilly (a small part in Guardians of the Galaxy) and Brie Larson (who has been cast to play Captain Marvel). None of the characters were written that well and they all seemed a bit lifeless. It was cool seeing Hiddleston get to be a macho bad ass but there was no real depth to who he was.

Kong: Skull Island was a bit of a disappointment. The first trailer looked really good and I had hoped that Legendary would have corrected some of the mistakes they made with Godzilla. In attempting to do so, they may have gone too far in the other direction, they need to find the balance. Frankly, for movies about giant monsters fighting, neither are as exciting as they should be.