Saturday, July 19, 2014

Popcorn for One _ DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (possible Spoilers)

This may contain some SPOILERS, so let's leave it at that and get on with it, shall we?

Andy Serkis owns this move from the opening scenes.  His portrayal of Caesar dominates the entire film whether he is in the scene or not.  Gary Oldman, as Dreyfus, leader of the the remaining human population of San Francisco is just fine as is Jason Clarke as Malcolm, the engineer who comes to befriend the apes.  However, Serkis' performance, hidden as it may be by the motion capture technique, remains the thing that keeps the audience riveted to the screen.  If you are familiar with his performance as Gollum in any of Peter Jackson's Tolkien films you have only seen the beginnings of what can be done. The first film in the reboot of the franchise, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, showed the advances that had been made since the days of Gollum and this film blows those out of the water.

Close to a decade has passed since the final scenes of the first film. The virus created in the lab from which the apes escaped has wiped out a good portion of the human race.  The governments of the world and the entire infrastructures that made modern society are all but memories at this point.  Caesar and the apes he freed have created their own society in the forests outside the city of San Francisco.  There has been no contact between the species for over two years, each believing the other may have died off.  One day a group of survivors, led by Malcolm comes into the area controlled by the apes to attempt to reactivate a power station to return electricity to the city.  One of the group panics and shoots one of the apes, which brings about a confrontation.  Things look bad for the humans until Caesar intervenes.  Malcolm and Caesar come to an understanding and the humans are allowed to go about their work.

Koba, cruelly abused in medical experiments in the first film, was rescued by Caesar in that film and has become his second in command.  His feelings towards humans is understandably not as benign as his leader and as events unfold, Koba (played brilliantly by Toby Kebbell) decides that his hatred and need for revenge should be the path the apes should follow. Putting his plan into effect the inevitable face off between humans and apes comes about.

The great thing about the film is that it really doesn't follow the path you expect.  The trailer shows you some of this, but there is far more going on and the heroes & villains not as clear cut as you might think. Oldman's character is far more fine tuned than you generally find in this sort of thing.  Only a few of the characters fit the stereotypes you expect, but these are not the main actors.

Given the ending of the film, and I certainly won't spoil it for you, it does seem likely that there will be at least a third film in the current franchise.  Whether it takes place shortly after the events of DAWN or decades later, remains to be seen.  I can only hope that Andy Serkis returns, whether behind the camera or in the motion performance that he has pioneered.

If you didn't see the first film in this series, don't go in expecting the actors in heavy latex from the first franchise and the Tim Burton film from 2001.  Those days are long gone, my friends.  I highly recommend you see the film while it's still on the big screen where you can really enjoy it.

Next up, we're waiting for GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY next month.

Popcorn for One: GODZILLA (a review with some spoilers)

This was written shortly after I saw the film, but due to computer problems I haven't been able to post it until now.

I know just about everyone else has seen the film, but things have been pretty hectic around Chateau Chaput for the past few weeks.  Weddings will do that!

I guess there wasn't much of interest this past Friday, or folks were going to later showings, but the Regal/Edwards Kaleidoscope theater was pretty much empty.  There was no line at all for the ticket booth and only one guy in front of me for the concession stand.  The 12:40pm showing of GODZILLA had only one other guy in the audience, besides me.  He was several rows back so it was pretty much a private screening with my choice of seats. I generally like seeing this type of film with a bigger audience, or least I used to.  Nowadays it seems theaters are full of a**holes who have to talk through the entire feature and explain to the idiots with him (yeah, sometime it's a female, but generally it's some guy in his early twenties) what everyone can see on screen. 


I love how the opening credits are over actual/doctored "documentary" footage of post-WWII atomic bomb testing in the Pacific.  I won't give anything away, but look close at a couple of quick shots, which will be explained later in the film.

The film opens in 1999 Japan, where Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his wife, Sandra (Juliette Binoche) are working at a nuclear plant.  Joe believes that there are problems with seismic actvity, but no body seems to be interested.  The date is Joe's birthday and after seeing their son, Ford off to school the go to the plant.  Naturally, this is the day when Joe's concerns prove justified.  Sandra and a crew are checking out the reactor when things go badly, locking the team in when the reactor has a meltdown.  We then shift to some fifteen years later when an older Ford (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson), now grown and a Navy demolitions expert, is returning home from active duty.  We meet his wife, Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and his son Sam (Carson Bolde).  Unfortunately, that same evening Ford receives a phone call telling him that his father has been arrested.  It seems that Joe just can't let the past go, as his son has successfully done, and is still attempting to prove that the government(s) are hiding the actual cause of the accident, among other things.

We are also introduced to Dr. Ishioro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), a scientist also investigating unusual phenomenon.  However, unlike Brody, Dr. Ishioro may know the true cause of the problem and this disturbs him.

We learn that the Japanese and American governments discovered a lifeform that lives off of nuclear radiation and although thought dormant has actually come to life.  They also know of a large predator that may be able to destroy these creatures before they can reproduce.  That predator has been called a 'god' of nature, Ishioro dubs him Godzilla.

The trailers have already shown us that Big "G" does eventually appear, but the other creatures dubbed MUTOS (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms), a male and fertile female.  Laying waste to part of Japan, Hawaii and Las Vegas the two eventually meet in the city of San Franciso and things really get ugly. Fortunately, there is that other giant from the sea who may be the only hope that humanity has.

I wanted to be able to give the film a solid four stars and the trailers seemed to lead me in that direction.  However, I find that the best I can do is three and a half.  The film starts out fine, but the death of one character really changes the focus of the film.  For some folks it seems to have ruined it, but I think it was more the fault of the marketing department and the film's director and writers.

Not to give anything else away, but the ending does indicate that a sequel may be coming.  At least I hope so, there is a lot more that can be done with Godzilla as we all know.