REVIEW: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

11 07 2014

Dawn of ApesThe dominant attitude that seems to prevail when making sequels is to give people more of the same.  If it functioned well enough the first time to justify a second helping, something had to be working, right?

Matt Reeves’ “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” on the other hand, completely defies the logic.  While Rupert Wyatt’s 2011 series reboot “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” focused on scientific ethics and human progress, its follow-up goes in a completely different direction.  If it weren’t for the astonishing motion-capture apes, the casual onlooker might not even be able to pair the films in the same series.

I must applaud Fox, the studio willing to front the $170 million budget, for allowing a new director to take one of their most vital franchises into uncharted territory.  Reeves uses no marquee names (unless you count Gary Oldman), focuses mainly on the apes, and never caves to a large-scale battle that could level an entire urban area.  That was likely not an immediately confidence-inspiring vision, especially given the tepid commercial reception to Reeves’ 2010 arty horror film “Let Me In.”

But “Dawn” works so well because it does not feel tethered to anyone’s agenda other than that of its creative team.  The film has the ability to explore what the series can be as opposed to how much it can stretch what it already is.  Reeves makes some exciting discoveries with this freedom that further energize what was already a fascinating franchise.  He leaves us excited for whatever sequel may follow, despite leaving no obvious indications of what the next film might entail.

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REVIEW: The Adventures of Tintin

7 01 2012

You don’t need to know who Hergé’s Tintin is to enjoy the “The Adventures of Tintin,” all you need is to be primed for an exhilarating and fun adventure with the man who introduced many of us to adventure itself, Steven Spielberg.  Whether it was “Jurassic Park,” an “Indiana Jones” movie, or “E.T.,” the director – whose name has become synonymous with cinematic virtuosity – has once again vividly realized the power of technology to invoke an old-fashioned sense of wonder in movie watching.  With the motion-capture technology looking more real and life-like than ever, it makes for an interesting paradox that “Tintin” removes you so easily from reality while so seamlessly replicating it.

Thanks to Spielberg’s partnership with Peter Jackson and his visual effects team at WETA, the two filmmakers take leaps and bounds from the early Zemeckis films like “The Polar Express” and “Beowulf” to fully capture the complexity of human anatomy and emotionality.  As a result, there’s nothing to distract you from getting fully engrossed in this old-fashioned Spielbergian adventure, no moment where you can think that a character looks fake or like an out-of-place animated replica.  It has been remarkable to watch this technology improve over my lifetime, and “Tintin,” along with “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” makes 2011 a landmark year for its progression.

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REVIEW: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

8 08 2011

Summer always brings some nice surprises, and better to get it in August than not at all!  If you had told me at the beginning of the summer that “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” would be second to only “Harry Potter” in terms of quality blockbusters, I would have scoffed and laughed.  But now, I couldn’t be happier to say that a beautiful marriage of intelligence and entertainment has occurred in Rupert Wyatt’s film, and combined with the groundbreaking motion-capture that wows and dazzles, the whole experience knocks you unexpectedly off your feet.

This “Apes” starts from the beginning, wisely stepping away from Tim Burton’s remake and distancing itself from the original series so as to make a name for itself, and provides the summer’s first (and perhaps only) satisfying origins story.  It shows us Dr. Will Rodman (James Franco), desperate for a cure for Alzheimer’s that might cure his ailing father (John Lithgow).  After a tragic accident shuts down his funding and research, Rodman throws ethics out the window and takes home the infant Caesar (performed by Andy Serkis), an ape who had been passed the experimental drug through his mother.

Caesar becomes quite the specimen of evolution and progress, learning at a frighteningly quick pace and never showing signs of slowing.  With all signs pointing towards a medicinal triumph over nature, Rodman administers the drug to his father and a cure looks locked down.  Yet with Caesar’s growing mental capabilities come what humans have long feared – an added emotional capacity that could lead our greatest creation to turn on us.

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