“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”
Once in a while a so-called science fiction/action film grabs the summer season by its cinematic throat, forcing all of the other films to dance in its shadow. Excluding the recent “X-Men,” that is precisely the case with director Matt Reeves’ “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”
In the original film of this new series, released in 2011, you saw James Franco as a scientist raising a young ape named Caesar, only to have him shamefully imprisoned in a facility where he was mistreated with little concern. However, Caesar’s treatment with new experimental drugs led him to an intelligence level equivalent of humans, and he led his colleagues in a spectacular escape over the Golden Gate Bridge.
Here, Caesar, his mate and two children lead a large ape colony in the forest near the destroyed San Francisco. Human life has been all but eliminated because of a deadly virus named the “Simian Flu,” and the remaining humans and existing apes haven’t interacted in over 10 years.
That changes when a group of humans, seeking a dam to restore electric power, stumble across Caesar’s village. Catastrophe awaits until peace is sought by the human Malcolm, played by Jason Clarke.
Nearly all existing humans have suffered some traumatic loss. And that applies to Malcolm and his teenage son, Alexander, played by Kodi Smit-McPhee. Keri Russell accompanies our duo as Ellie, a woman who, like them, has lost her family.
While Gary Oldman also appears as the manic-depressive leader of the humans in San Francisco, it is the unforgettable performance of Andy Serkis as Caesar that dominates the movie. In much the same manner as he did as Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings” series as well as the recent “Hobbit” films, Serkis brings Caesar to life at a depth impossible to describe, and it will be a crime if he is ignored at Oscar time.
The film focuses on an unfortunate war between apes and humans, and it is precipitated when Caesar is betrayed by his closest ally, Koba, played marvelously by Toby Kebbell. Koba sees war as the only answer, and after disposing of Caesar, he leads an attack on the humans that poses a monumental disaster for both sides.
When Caesar confronts Malcolm near the movie’s finale with the observation that only trouble exists in the future since the apes started the war, I couldn’t help but think of what it must be like to live in the Arab world after Osama bin Laden initiated a war with the September 11 attacks. Like Koba, his limited initial success put all of his people in jeopardy, and it created a world that still threatens to unravel.
While there are many intriguing moments throughout this daring movie, none are more telling than Caesar’s repeated decree that apes are different from humans in that “apes don’t kill apes.” Can we really maintain that human beings are the highest elevated form of life on Earth when we are so willing to repeatedly destroy much of our planet and the humans occupying it?
“Begin Again” is a cinematic diamond in the rough that saved an otherwise dismal Fourth of July movie weekend. Director John Carney displayed his magic touch in “Once” (2006), and the strengths of that tiny film are found here.
In short, we see Dave and Greta arrive in New York from England to pursue a record contract. Adam Levine plays Dave while Keira Knightley plays Greta, and their love affair matches their musical abilities. As for young Mr. Levine, the lead singer for Maroon 5, he matches the acting talents displayed by Jared Leto in “Dallas Buyers Club.”
Unfortunately, quick fame has its costs, and Greta takes a hike upon learning of Dave’s transgressions. In the process, she meets Dan (Mark Ruffalo), a depressed, drunken ex-recording executive who excels at embracing his lost past. On the outs with his ex-wife, Miriam (the accomplished Catherine Keener), and his teenage daughter Violet (Hailee Steinfeld), he appears headed for disaster until he inadvertently hears Greta reluctantly sing at a local bar.
The movie takes off like a rocket ship from that point with both Greta and Dan fighting off depression while they put an engaging rock group together to record an album on the streets of New York. The songs are at times magical, and any criticism of “Begin Again” as being a retread of “Once” is woefully undeserved.
As an example, the scene of Greta initially singing in the bar as Dan watches is repeated from several different perspectives. In one, you see a drunken Dan entranced as he imagines unused instruments, lying on stage, playing without human help to provide an important back-up band for Greta. Dan smiles as he rediscovers his strength and you will smile with him.
In addition, there is a recording session on a New York street where Dan’s angry daughter reluctantly joins as a guitarist and several neighborhood kids are asked to sing as backups. The song itself is a knockout, and these two scenes represent the vocal and visual genius of Carney, who also wrote the film. They contribute to make the film unforgettable.
There are some other wonderful supporting roles, the most notable being those provided by James Corden and Mos Def. Corden plays Steve, Greta’s old friend who lends a shoulder. He is wonderfully funny at every turn. As for Def, he fills a critical void as Dan’s old boss/partner who was forced to fire him. Despite his anger, his affection for Dan is never lost, and you know that he will be around the corner to lend a helping hand.
As for Knightley, a beautiful and intelligent actress, she also proves to be an excellent singer. On top of that, she may be the only actress working in film today who has the nerve to not be embarrassed by imperfect teeth. It makes me love her all the more.
This movie is a must see. No excuses.•
Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis. When he is not in the courtroom or working diligently in his Pennsylvania Street office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters watching and preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.