Rise of the Planet of the Apes (May Contain Spoilers)

With all of the prequels, sequels and reboots coming out of Hollywood in recent years (and quite likely, for the foreseeable future as well), after a while they can tend to become a little like background noise – you know they’re there, but tend not to take much notice of them. A few of these films that have tried to pin themselves to the success of others have proven to be worth watching and genuinely add to what the originals had to offer, and some just tend to let everyone down and ruin what could have been something great. Luckily, Rise of the Planet of the Apes sits firmly in the former.

Taking place many, many years before the original Planet of the Apes (and just to clarify, I am talking about the original Charlton Heston version, and not Tim Burton’s re-imagining. It may have had better visual effects, but still, that’s just not an excuse anymore…), Rise of the Planet of the Apes takes everything back to the very beginning of the simian revolution, and ties up all threads that led up to how apes became the supreme beings on Earth. It all starts with Will Rodman (James Franco), a brilliant scientific mind who is on the verge of creating a cure for Alzheimer’s disease which has struck his father (John Lithgow) very hard. The most successful ape in his trials manages to break free and gets shot right before a presentation, but leaves behind a baby ape with the chemical cure passed down genetically. What Will soon finds out is that his chemical isn’t just a cure, but enhances brain activity as well, and so he studies the ape he’s named Caeser and along with his love interest Caroline (Frieda Pinto), teaches him things no normal ape could comprehend. Eventually, Caeser is an ape with an extraordinary mind and has proven that Will’s cure for Alzheimer’s works. But as his boss (David Oyelewo) begins work on a stronger version of his cure, Caeser gets put into an ape sanctuary where the handlers (Tom Felton and Brian Cox) are cruel and merciless, and the other apes fight for dominance. Before long, Caeser unites his fellow apes together and plots an escape from their prison to the freedom of the outside world.

I can’t really express how impressive and generally exciting Rise of the Planet of the Apes is in a way that is short and sweet enough to mean I don’t go on forever about every little bit, so I’ll try and stick to the basics of what I liked, and just say that it definitely lived up to my expectations of it (I also want to mention that I avoided making any monkey-puns during the writing of this review. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it).

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the fact that you end up being very sympathetic towards an animal main character, as Andy Serkis manages to bring some amazing effects and facial emotions to the character of Caeser. You end up truly feeling the plight of this creature and partly feeling that him leading the apes on a revolution is somewhat deserved. Then you remember “Oh wait, I’m a human, I should really be on their side”.

The effects in general are amazing, as well, as each ape manages to take on some kind of personality and play a part towards the end, and you can see how parts of what happen in ROTPOTA leads into the hierarchy of the original.

What I perhaps liked the most about Rise of the Planet of the Apes, though, is the very end parts. Not only do you get to see Caeser with his fellow (now smarter) ape brethren in the freedom of the forests where they belong, but midway through the credits we are all treated to an explanation of how humans died out from the virus created by the stronger version of the Alzheimer’s Cure, and how it spreads throughout the globe, showing how it wasn’t apes themselves that killed off humans, but a virus instead that left Apes as the dominant species. This tied everything together neatly into one, very solid storyline and one amazingly visual film.

It’s actually hard to find too many things I can really fault Rise of the Planet of the Apes on. One small thing perhaps would be the scene on the San Francisco Bridge when a mounted policeman is charging a silverback Gorilla. Now while I admit that I’m no scientist when it comes to animals, it seems to me that no matter what kind of horse you’re riding, if it were to see a gorilla running at it it would almost definitely turn and run the other way and not carry on running! But, as I said, this is a science fiction film and is only really a small flaw in an otherwise brilliantly put together film.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes gets 9 out of 10 for having incredible visual effects an tying everything together in a well-rounded way that also manages to lead in nicely to the original films and have a good script and acting at the same time. It’s a lot to be able to pull off in one film, but Rise definitely seems to have covered all the bases.


LISTED Film Previews – August ’11

Carrying on the big Summer Blockbuster hits of the season, I very nearly ran out of space in this months section as there was SO much that I wanted to write about these films, but had to limit what I could put for each of them. Never the less, all the best films (and worst) films for this month managed to get a mention, so get your great big dirty eyes round these and pick something to watch!

COWBOYS & ALIENS (12A) (Dir. Jon Favreau)

This neo-Western sci-fi epic set in Silver City, Arizona in 1873 sees Daniel Craig as a man on the run who wakes up in the wilderness to find an unusual mechanism attached to his wrist. After journeying back to town, the colonel (Harrison Ford, back in a hat again!) puts him in shackles. At that moment, the most unlikely of events occurs – an Alien spacecraft arrives in the town with bad intentions. Now, a posse of cowboys and Native Americans must band together to fight the extra-terrestrial invaders. Expect bucket-loads of epic action and effects in this comic book adaptation from the director of Iron Man. Released August 19th.

SUPER 8 (12A) (Dir. J.J. Abrams)

In a small Ohio town in 1979, a group of teenagers shooting a super 8 movie witness a train crash and capture it on film. But later they suspect that the crash was no accident as strange events start taking place in their town, and as their deputy begins to investigate, a monstrous phenomenon emerges. This highly anticipated film from the director of Star Trek and Cloverfield will have both cult followers and mainstream film-goers excited in equal measures! Released August 5th.

THE SMURFS (PG) (Dir. Raja Gosnell)

Call me cynical, but the more films that try to rejuvenate classic cartoons from the past into CGI money-makers shows a growing lack of originality. Both Marmaduke and Yogi Bear went South, and it could be that The Smurfs being magically transported to New York could head down the same dangerous path. However, Neil Patrick Harris, Katy Perry as Smurfette and Hank Azaria as Gargamel could be what saves this from being a total smurf-up. Released August 10th.

RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (12A) (Dir. Rupert Wyatt)

Finally seeing a prequel to the famous Sci-fi film series, Rise of the Planet of the Apes stars James Franco as a research scientist working to create a cure for Alzheimer’s by experimenting on a chimp named Caesar. But the consequences of his research are bigger than anyone could have expected, and the development of animal intelligence brings around a war for dominance between apes and humans. Just the effects in the trailers are entirely mind blowing, and with Andy Serkis getting his primate on again after King Kong you can bet that this will completely re-define everything that was known about this series until now. Guaranteed, this will be a big hit on all accounts! Released August 12th.


Alright, so it may well be like a modern day Kevin And Perry Go Large, but considering that The Inbetweeners has been one of the biggest sitcom hits of recent years, the fact that the boys are getting their own movie comes as little surprise! Will (Simon Bird), Jay (James Buckley), Neil (Blake Harrison) and Simon (Joe Thomas) are all heading out on a group holiday to Crete. But, as with all the best laid plans of the foursome, things are bound to go awry. This could end up being the British answer to The Hangover, so don’t see this if you don’t want your sides split! Released August 19th.

As published in Listed Magazine and online at http://www.listedmagazine.com

It’s that time of year again…

Yes, that most anticipated of Awards Ceremonies, The Oscars, sees all kinds of celebrities turning out in their most amazing looking threads and practising their most gracious of losing faces for this one time of year.

Of course, this year was no different, and England in particular has a lot riding on this, the 83rd Annual Academy Awards, with The King’s Speech nominated in as many categories as it can possibly manage. From the Red Carpet, everyone seemed rightly excited for the close calls in this year’s nominees. Everyone has their favourites, but only one can win. I know where my money is!

James Franco and Anne Hathaway did a nice job of hosting together, but of course when you put two attractive people together like that you’re hoping to get an entertaining back and forth (especially when half-way through they come back out dressed as each other). Plus, it gives all the geeks in the audience a chance at imagining how Anne Hathaway will look when she plays Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises next year!

Best Art Direction surprisingly didn’t go to Inception but to Alice in Wonderland, which I suppose must be purely for all its CGI and imaginative creations.

Best Supporting Actress went to Melissa Leo for her performance in The Fighter, but it did mean that both Helena Bonham Carter and Hayley Steinfeld missed out (which gave Helena a reason for looking moody and gothy), which confused me as I was sure they put Hayley Steinfeld into this category so she might win since she was on the screen for 90% of the time, which would surely mean the Lead Actress in True Grit was Matt Damon…

Best Animated Feature obviously went to Toy Story 3, but being one of three films nominated it was almost to be expected. Best Adapted Screenplay must have been a very close call because 127 Hours, The Social Network and True Grit were all very well written, but the award went to The Social Network as I hoped. Best Original Screenplay brought the first Oscar to The King’s Speech, and David Seidler made a great acceptance speech for it. I couldn’t have called In a Better World for Best Foreign Language film as I think most people expected it to go to Biutiful, but there you go.

Another tough call came for Best Supporting Actor, but Christian Bale took the award away, which I’m guessing is due to the amount of weight he lost purely to perform his role in The Fighter. Inside Job took Best Documentary, but that’s probably because it exposed massive financial fraud to a nation that got hit by it!

Inception took away a total of 4 awards, including Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual Effects and surprisingly Cinematography, which I expected to go to True Grit for its scenery and settings. Best Original Score, to my huge excitement, went to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, which meant I got to see the man that fronted Nine Inch Nails accepting an Oscar whilst simultaneously feeling obviously awkward about it!

Best Director, without any surprise, went to Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech, even though I was rooting for David Fincher for The Social Network, but at least he made a good acceptance speech so you can’t fault him for that. Best Actress went to Natalie Portman, and again that is likely due to the amount of dance training she went through for her role in Black Swan.

No prizes for guessing that Best Actor went to Colin Firth for The King’s Speech, as well as winning Best Feature Film. That means 4 Oscars for The King’s Speech and good night for English Films!

So, until next year, we can all go away and rent all the films from tonight, and remember just why they won the awards they did. Or, alternatively, bitch continuously about how our favourites really should have won that one award that they were nominated for instead of that other which wasn’t nearly as good…

The Green Hornet (Contains Spoilers)

What seems to be a wave of “non-hero” films that got started by Kick-Ass has spat out a few no-hitters (we’re looking at you Defendor), but out of this has come the re-imagining of a classic radio series-come-TV show The Green Hornet. Originally, The Green Hornet radio show was a tie-in to The Lone Ranger (Britt Reid is his grandnephew) but for an audience that wanted someone on a more modern basis as the hero. Eventually, The Green Hornet became a TV show which saw Bruce Lee as Kato in one of his earlier English language roles. Since that point, The Green Hornet has been more associated with the like of the Adam West Batman than anything more legitimate.

But Michel Gondry, a questionable choice in director considering he’s better known for things like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep, has managed to breathe new life into the green-clad vigilante and his martial art’s expert sidekick and create something fresh. Originally, Kevin Smith was asked to direct this ask it was thought that he would be able to do justice to a film that would sit nicely amongst other comic book-type movies, but he declined as he didn’t want to direct an action movie because of the long hours spent choreographing sequences and then reshooting them time and time again. He even stated that his version of The Green Hornet would be him and Kato hanging out by the Black Beauty and then going off-screen to beat up bad guys every so often. Luckily, Michel Gondry’s version has a bit more action than that, and that’s what made this version so enjoyable, and with less pot jokes, and Kevin Smith’s script is now a comic series of The Green Hornet.

The idea behind The Green Hornet is that Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) is the son of a newspaper owner who dies and leaves him his legacy. Being a known party animal, Britt decides it’s time to step up and do something memorable and help people. With his dad’s mechanic Kato, they set out to make a difference by being heroes posing as bad guys in order to infiltrate gangs and stop them from the inside, whilst Britt uses the newspaper to make a name for his alter-ego. It’s an original motive behind the normal reasoning for becoming a hero, but it got pulled off pretty well. A few geeky references are made in The Green Hornet, one notably being in Kato’s sketchbook there is a page of Bruce Lee sketches, paying tribute to Lee as the original Kato, and James Franco makes an appearance at the start of the film after appearing with Seth Rogen in Pineapple Express.

Generally, I thought The Green Hornet was an enjoyable film – it wasn’t amazingly hilarious, it wasn’t a great hero movie either, but the thing that people don’t get is that The Green Hornet never was any of these anyway! It’s a bit fitting that its remembered more along the lines of the original Adam West Batman because that’s how it was originally written – semi-serious but generally just enjoyable. And that’s exactly what this version does too. Essentially, Seth Rogen is doing the kind of comedy he does best, but mixing it in with being a masked vigilante and kicking some ass at the same time.  Jay Chou is really great as Kato and comes very close to upstaging Rogen as one of the better characters of the film, not just because of his martial arts scenes but also because of his delivery of some one-liners. I think Cameron Diaz was pinned on a little to this movie for some star recognition as she didn’t add that much to the plot, but Christoph Waltz did a good job as mob boss Chudnofsky, who gets one of the best deaths of the film with two wood planks to the face! Of course, the real star of the movie was always going to be the Black Beauty, Britt Reid’s super car with all kinds of gadgets and weapons which is responsible for most of the action scenes!

One thing I wasn’t so happy with was the fact that someone felt it was necessary to pin the 3D movie tag to this film and jump on the 3D bandwagon, even though there was barely any 3D moments during the film. There were plenty of opportunities for some, but in actual fact the transfer to 3D was a last minute decision and as such there wasn’t that much use of it. Apart from that, The Green Hornet was an enjoyably funny film that had just as much action thrown into the mix too, and only suffered very minimally from the “Take-away Film” syndrome (i.e., you enjoy it while you’re watching it, but have forgotten about it 2 hours later), which means it wasn’t a throw-away effort.

Perhaps the best description of this film is a superhero version of Pineapple Express with the same kind of humour and action, but replacing the pot jokes with Black Beauty scenes! So, on that note, I’m giving The Green Hornet 6 out of 10 for enjoyment, but it loses points  for its lack of 3D despite its advertising.

127 Hours (Contains Spoilers)

Getting the year started off with some brilliant films is always a good sign of cinema to come throughout the rest of the year. So trust me when I say that seeing 127 Hours as the first cinema offering of the year means that I have officially set the bar high for other films!

127 Hours is the latest offering from Danny Boyle who, for those of you out there unfamiliar with this name (shame on you…) has also directed landmark films as Trainspotting, 28 Days Later and more recently the highly successful Slumdog Millionaire. Personally, I thought that Boyle would have a hard time following up Slumdog Millionaire with something as equally hard-hitting and thought provoking, but amazingly this retelling of true events manages to do exactly that.

127 Hours is the true story of extreme mountain climber/explorer/canyoneer Aron Ralston who, whilst trekking across Blue John Canyon in Utah on a day no-one knew where he had gone, fell down a 65 foot crevice and a rock trapped his arm against the canyon wall. With limited supplies, dwindling amounts of water and a single video camera, Aron Ralston has to survive 5 days trapped between a rock and a hard place before he managed to free himself and scale back up the wall and trek over 8 miles before he was rescued. 127 Hours recalls these events with incredible accuracy and in such a way that you empathise incredibly strongly with James Franco’s quite honestly amazingly human performance as Aron Ralston.

James Franco apparently wasn’t the first choice for the role of Aron Ralston, but the fact that he does an amazing performance with reactions to the situations he find himself in with incredible humanity is a testament to his capturing of the personality. The fact that you see Ralston interact with people he meets at the start of the film manages to set up what kind of person he is before “the accident” happens. When he meets Kristi (Kate Mara) and Megan (Amber Tamblyn), you manage to get a sense of what drives this person to do such extreme exploring, and it’s this interaction that sets up certain personality changes and mental states later in the film. When “the accident” occurs, its sudden and shocking which is effective as you then start feeling everything Ralston feels from that point, and its only at that point (20 minutes into the actual film) that the title shows and signals the start of the clock for how long Ralston is trapped there for.

As you would expect, to start with Ralston tries everything he can to escape – lifting, pushing, screaming, swearing and eventually reverts back to how he was and becomes very calculating, laying out everything that he has on him on the rock and starts formulating a plan. Because we already have the sense that this is what he knows more about than anything else, you get the sense that he is more likely to figure something out than any average person would be able to. And that is confirmed when you see him create a crude pulley system to try and hoist the rock away, and though this doesn’t work it is still explained why it hasn’t.

And that is one thing that makes 127 Hours more interesting to watch than it otherwise would – the dynamic story-telling technique of Ralston documenting the events over the 5 days he is trapped onto a video camera, which apparently is exactly what Ralston did in real life. This technique allows the audience to better understand what is happening in Ralston’s mind during the days that he is trapped for and almost becomes a direct link between Ralston and the audience, talking directly to them.

This, after a while, becomes slightly unsettling as although Ralston manages to keep it together and perhaps fares better than anyone else would in his situation because of his training, you do see him slip slowly away from a sound mental state and start to lose it a little every so often. You become a part of all his imaginings and his hallucinations along with him, which better brings you into what he is going through. This doesn’t exactly happen quickly, but more builds up slowly as his supplies slowly run out, but that’s what resorting to drinking your own urine does to someone.

It’s the point at which the rain comes and starts creating a torrent through the cavern Ralston is trapped in that things start to truly turn, as you see him manage to escape from the rock and make it back to civilisation, and all the way through this sequence you want it to be true even though you already know how he really gets out.

What I perhaps found most effective throughout 127 Hours was how sounds and music are used. We already know how effectively Danny Boyle can use the smallest elements of a scene to create something bigger, but the fact that each song from the soundtrack matched the scenes and the action perfectly made it that much more interesting to watch. But so much more than that is the use of the sounds in each scene – every little sound in emphasised to create a different sense of the surroundings, everything from him drinking and swallowing water, to cracking his wrist after working, to rubbing his skin and lips and using his equipment. It these elements that help create the strong sense of being truly alone throughout the film.

When the time finally comes for Ralston to take drastic measures in order to escape, there is no hiding the fact of what he has to do. Things he has done throughout the film lead up to him cutting off his own arm with a crappy penknife no less, and it’s the use of sound again in this scene that makes it even more gripping and worrying at the same time. Every crunch of bone and cutting of skin is heard and emphasised, and even when he reaches a nerve the sounds of feedback accentuate what he must feel as he cuts through it. This sound itself reminded me of playing “Operation”, and made it feel as though he was cutting an electrical wire inside his own arm, which frankly is enough to set my teeth on edge and everyone else’s too!

The good thing about 127 Hours is throughout the film you know that Aron doesn’t die, because he made it out to write a book and have this film made about him. But that doesn’t stop you from second-guessing what might happen and finding yourself concerned that actually, he might not make it out at all, and that’s mostly down to the fact that you start believing what Aron himself believes. But when he does make it out and finds help, after saying a fairly ironic “Thank you” to the rock that trapped him for 5 solid days, you feel this overwhelming sense of relief that he finally made it out and can go see his family again.

Danny Boyle knows how to tell a story full of humanity, and there’s no denying that fact. What he’s done with 127 Hours is take a fairly straightforward premise where, potentially, not very much could happen (he was trapped in one place for 5 days) and turned it into a study of humanity and the human mind, and how one man can fight against elements, overwhelming odds and even his own mental state to prevail and come out the other side still alive.

127 Hours is a great story, well told, and as such I’m giving it a huge 8 out of 10 for being a great start to a year of cinema!