Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: the difficult second album

Is the second film in a franchise the hardest or is the one that starts the whole thing off harder? And, for that matter, is a film a franchise after two outings? These days I’d say yes. At least the studios like to think so. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is no different. Indeed, it’s very much following the formula (not that that’s a bad thing).Dawn-of-the-planet-Of-the-Apes-2014-Wallpapers-8

  • Film 1: Set up the world, introduce the characters, keep things focused on the lead character and (largely) their individual journey
  • Film 2: Expand the world, make the stakes bigger, give the lead character much more responsibility, let the antagonists gain the upper hand (usually)
  • Film 3: Bring the story full circle, perhaps scaling things back to make them more personal and about the lead character’s individual journey again

Anyway, that’s my rough, it’s-early-morning-don’t-judge-me take on the tried and tested trilogy formula. If we’re talking large franchise (i.e. beyond three films), then the formula is anyone’s guess. But I’m getting off topic.

As far as reinvigorating a franchise goes Rise of the Planet of the Apes surprised everyone. After Tim Burton’s commercially successful but otherwise rather unmemorable attempt back in 2001, some said this story was pretty much dead and had run its course. Actors in full prosthetic makeup (decent makeup I’ll grant you) attempting to emote for all they were worth. Not bad, just not that good. Hats off to Burton for trying though.

But now… Hurrah and rejoice. With the rise of motion capture technology – led by the Godfather of mo-cap Andy Serkis – this tale could now be told in the most realistic way yet.dawn-planet-apes
Following events in Rise of Apes where the apes – led by Ceasar (Serkis) – bust out of San Francisco by way of the Golden Gate bridge, the story in Dawn of Apes picks up around ten years on. We’re told that much of humanity has been wiped out by ape flu, leaving a small percentage of the population intact and immune to the virus.

We start with Ceasar and his band of merry apes, now settled in a colony in the forest outside San Fran. Straight away it’s clear that – as a group – they’re well organised, intelligent, have a clear community structure and are, well, highly similar to humans.

They largely communicate in sign language, a method which gives them a graceful and dignified nature. Along with the community, individual ape characters have evolved since the first film. With Ceasar; long gone is the young revolutionary that broke his brothers and sisters out of captivity. Here we have Ceasar the leader, an ape in command, and an ape with bigger responsibilities. He’s now a family ape (with a wife and teenage son).
dawn-of-the-planet-of-the-apes-ew-1
Returning to my franchise bullet points for a moment, director Matt Reeves had a tricky task in more ways than one: expanding the apes’ world yet keeping the story personal, shifting the focus to the apes but keeping the humans very much in the story, giving more depth to the ape characters. Hell, even just getting the damn technology to a place where it would seem not only plausible, but very much believable was a big ask. (Remember, this is no Avatar where you can create the world from scratch. The director filmed most of this on location, making the motion capture aspect monumentally difficult.)

So if you stop and think about it for a second, this film could have gone south very quickly. Even with advances in technology you still needed to buy into Ceasar’s plight. But buy into it you will, or at least most of you will. It might seem like a broken record to say this but, yet again, Andy Serkis has shown the depth of his ability as an actor – and continued to showcase motion capture as a viable method of filmmaking (way more than 3D at any rate).

He also gets help from some hairy chums along the way, particularly the real antagonist of the film. Not human this time but ape, in the form of his volatile lieutenant Koba (played with real verve and conviction by Toby Kebbell). If there was ever an ape that had truly gone to the dark side, it’s Koba. The hate in his eyes is chilling yet you sympathise with him, to a degree. Praise should rightly go to Kebbell for his portrayal of an ape that’s become consumed by hate.XXX DAWN-PLANET-APES-MOV-JY-3806-.JPG A ENT
On the other side you have the humans, trying their darndest to get an old dam working to get power to their little colony. The story largely unfolds from the leader of their group, Malcolm’s (Jason Clarke) point of view. His quest to fix the dam is really just the starting point to kick things off and allow the apes to turn on each other, demonstrating they’ve got just as many flaws as the humans they’ve come to fear.

So in terms of difficult second album syndrome, Matt Reeves has done an exemplary job. He’s juggled numerous difficult elements: general plot, continuation of story, development of characters, mastering of technology and so on. It helps to have a decent script and the Godfather of mo-cap in your corner of course, but he’s still successfully steered the ship into a great position for the next instalment of this franchise.

Will the real Gary Oldman please stand up?

drexl-spivey-true-romanceGary Oldman isn’t the original bad boy. That title would probably go to James Dean or someone similar. But, at least in terms of myself growing up, I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for good old Gary in concentrated psycho mode. Obviously there’s Leon, but specifically I’m thinking Drexl in True Romance – sheer scene stealing brilliance.

And I imagine most of the guys I’ve listed below look up to Oldman, wishing their careers would follow a similar path. Indeed, Tom Hardy openly said so in interviews when he was just starting out. So, if Gary was in the room right now he’d probably graciously tilt his head to young chaps following in his mad and intense footsteps. At least, I like to think so. Either that or he’d throw his Chinese food at them and launch an insane attack in their direction. God bless him.

Here are the guys I think deserve that subtle Oldman head tilt:

James Franco as Alien (Spring Breakers)
Definitely mainlining pure essence of Drexl in Harmony Korine’s vacuous offering. Described by The Huffington Post as Scarface meets Britney Spears, Franco’s take on a wannabe rapper-cum-gangster is the film’s only redeeming quality. And that’s saying something when you’ve got Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson in bikinis for most of the movie.


Tom Hardy as Charlie Bronson
(Bronson)
Fearsome and frightening, even more so when naked and covered in white paint. Hardy is probably one of the best out there at the moment when it comes to intensity. A phenomenal and unrelenting performance as one of Britain’s most notorious criminals in Nicholas Winding Refn’s excellent (and somewhat underrated) film.


Sharlto Copley as Kruger
(Elysium)
Up to now he’s been the everyman trying to survive (District 9) and the funny man (The A-Team), so who knew Copley could do creepy and sadistic quite so well. In Neill Blomkamp’s follow up to 2009’s District 9, here Copley goes into full menace mode as mercenary agent hitman chappie, facing off against Matt Damon.


Paul Bettany as Young Gangster
(Gangster No. 1)
He does intense well, does old Paul. This film – which went largely under the radar in 2000 – had an impressive cast: David Thewlis, Eddie Marsan, Saffron Burrows and Malcolm McDowell. And don’t think ‘Young Gangster’ means his was a minor part, he drove the movie.


Vincent Cassell as Mesrine
(Mesrine: Killer Instinct/Public Enemy No. 1)
Arguably a career-best performance from Vincent Cassel in this two-part film that came out in 2008, charting the life of one of France’s most notorious criminals, Jacques Mesrine. Over both films Cassel’s portrayal of Mesrine was both charismatic and unnerving in its ferocity.


Michael Shannon as Curtis
(Take Shelter)
To be honest, you can take pretty much anything from Shannon’s filmography: Boardwalk Empire, Man Of Steel, The Iceman – over the last few years he’s been building his reputation as Hollywood’s go-to guy for unpredictable and explosive rage.


Obviously there’s others out there that perhaps deserve that special Oldman head tilt, but that’ll do for now – enough intensity for one evening. Now… who’s for some Disney?

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – what went wrong?

angelina jolie

Clearly I must be a churl. According to Pulitzer prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert I fit the profile, at least to a degree. To explain, I was flicking through channels today – I know for those of you that read my posts regularly it may sound like I do this a lot, I really don’t – and settled on watching a bit of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider for one simple reason, Angelina Jolie. There is literally no other reason to watch this film.angelina jolie
When it came out in 2001 Roger Ebert gave it three out of four stars saying ‘Lara Croft elevates goofiness to an art form. Here is a movie so monumentally silly, yet so wondrous to look at, that only a churl could find fault.’ This left me conflicted, am I a churl? I see many faults!

For those of you not in the know, a churl is defined as a surly, ill-bred person. Now I’m sure that’s not me, however I take the point, this film really is ridiculous. But if you cannot embrace its ridiculousness, I don’t think that makes you a churl. Similarly I don’t think it’s that wondrous to look at, Angelina excepted. I could forgive its ridiculous nature if other things didn’t bug me, let’s examine them.

Supporting cast
Angelina excluded, who clearly was Lara Croft, the rest of the cast – including Daniel Craig – just didn’t cut it. Ok, Craig did ok, but the rest? Chris Barrie (still best known as Rimmer from Red Dwarf) was doing his best Alfred the butler impersonation. I suppose he was comic relief but his presence seemed jarring, especially when you stuck him next to Angelina. A perfect modern day alternative? Assuming Michael Caine is busy and you want some young blood, I’d go with Matt Smith, great comic timing and quirkyness. Then, to replace the tech IT nerd character that also assists Lara, I’d go with the excellent Ben Whishaw, soon to be seen as Q in the new Bond, Skyfall.

Gary OldmanBad guy
Played by an actor called Iain Glen (recently in season 1 of Game of Thrones), who actually has solid acting credentials. Aside from the fact he looks a little like a cut-price Steven Seagal, he just wasn’t compelling – or evil – enough to hold the screen against Angelina. You need an actor with a track record in big, brash evil villains, like Gary Oldman. Tom Berenger’s been having a bit of a revival lately, or Gary Busey. The latter filed for bankruptcy earlier this year so might bring a lot of evil frustration to the role – he could do with the money!

Script/plot
Some of the dialogue was pretty corny and wooden and the plot often felt contrived. There were whole scenes where they had to explain a lot of story points (John Voight’s letter from beyond the grave scene springs to mind), which is not the best way to let a plot unfold. A lot of this could have been smoothed over with more assured direction. Which brings us to…

Director

Simon West is an English Director best known for his debut film, Con Air in 1997. He was originally set up to direct Black Hawk Down, but due to conflicts took up Tomb Raider instead. I feel he would have been supremely out of his depth with the former. However, his loss was our gain, as we got Ridley Scott on that one.

The easiest way to explain West’s style is if you think of him as a budget version Michael Bay – then you’ve got some idea of what he does to films. Just look at his latest offering Expendables 2. In terms of alternatives, I would love to see a remake of Tomb Raider with Guillermo del Toro at the helm. I know I suggest him for a lot of films, but with good reason. A mystical journey, tombs with monsters, a kick-ass heroine – imagine what he could do!

Ok, so that’s my lot, rant over, I hope you enjoyed my thoughts. Now I’m not saying if you’re flicking channels and this film comes on, to turn over. You have to enjoy it for what it is, relatively average action, slightly rescued by the fact we get to look at lovely Angelina. To paraphrase Roger Ebert, it’s ridiculous but you have to love it!

Who are the top 20 most intense actors of recent times?

charlie bronson

I do like an intense character and performance when I’m watching a film. Someone who literally rivets and welds you to the screen, look away at your peril. Some people probably like their films bright and breezy. I don’t mind those too, but there’s something about intensity that leaves a lasting impression. You remember those performances.

As such I thought I’d offer a couple of lists of actors and actresses that have had me mesmerised, entranced and – at times – a little frightened. I’ve most likely left off a lot of vintage performances and characters, but this is MY list so I’m allowed. Let me know your thoughts. Who would you have liked to have seen included?

In these lists I’ve put links to clips from some performances you might not have seen before, or maybe just want to revisit. Remember though, best not watch alone though, these lot are intense!

The guys

  1. charlie bronsonDaniel Day Lewis (Bill ‘the Butcher’ Cutting, Gangs of New York; Daniel Plainview, There will be Blood)
  2. Heath Ledger (The Joker, The Dark Knight)
  3. Tom Hardy (Charles Bronson, Bronson)
  4. Christian Bale (Patrick Bateman, American Psycho; Batman, The Batman Trilogy)
  5. Kevin Spacey (John Doe, Seven)
  6. Christopher Walken (Vicenzo Carcotti, True Romance; Frank White, King of New York)
  7. Javier Bardem (Anton Chigurh, No Country for Old Men)
  8. Christopher Waltz (Col. Hans Landa, Inglourious Basterds)
  9. Vincent Cassel (Jacques Mesrine, Mesrine)
  10. Liam Neeson (Bryan Mills, Taken)
  11. Jeremy Renner (Sergeant William James, The Hurt Locker; Jem Coughlin, The Town)
  12. Gary Oldman (Drexel, True Romance)

The gals

  1. helena bonham carter harry potterHelena Bonham Carter (Red Queen, Alice in Wonderland; Bellatrix Lestrange, Harry Potter)
  2. Cate Blanchett (Galadriel, Lord of the Rings)
  3. Marion Cotillard (Mal, Inception)
  4. Angelina Jolie (Lisa Rowe, Girl, Interrupted)
  5. Melanie Laurent (Shosanna Dreyfus, Inglourious Basterds)
  6. Charlize Theron (Aileen Wuornos, Monster)
  7. Famke Janssen (Xena Onotopp, Goldeneye; Jean Grey, Xmen: The Last Stand)
  8. Noomi Rapace (Lisbeth Salander, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)

So, there’s my list. You’ll notice there’s more men than women, I’m not sure why. I think, perhaps, there’s a tendency – particularly in Hollywood – for studios to shy away from films with intense, female leads. I wonder if they are more of a risk commercially? I don’t think that’s the case. I think it’s more to do with a lack of decent scripts for women, ones that don’t play to stereotypes.

One thing I’ve noticed is how top actors portray intensity – for me – it’s in the eyes. I think it’s what separates great actors and actresses from the rest. If you allow yourself to be drawn into their gaze, there’s so much depth there. Depending on the character they’re playing, it can be equally exciting, captivating and terrifying. Watch Pacino in The Godfather, making the decision to kill with his eyes. A lesson in intensity.

Right, I need to go watch some comedy now to level out. It’s all got too much. I’ll finish with artwork of Marion Cotillard, not because it’s intense, but because it’s simply beautiful – and that’s all the reason you need.

Marion Cotillard artwork