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Review – Rise of the Planet of the Apes (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 3/5

In the last two hundred and fifty years, there have been revolutions in America, France and Russia, to name three of many. Now, due to the entertaining, if flawed, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, there has been an ‘Ape revolution’ to add to that (tragically) long list.

Baby Caesar, the future leader of the ‘Ape revolution.’

The film’s plot centres round Will (James Franco – 127 Hours, Your Highness, Sausage Party) and his incredibly bright pet chimpanzee, Caesar (played by Andy Serkis – The Lord of the Rings I, II & III, Burke & Hare, The Hobbit I ). Will is a scientist, who believes that he has found the cure for Alzheimer’s. He uses data readings from apes – Caesar in particular – to prove it. The cure also increases brain function and intelligence considerably. This enables Caesar to communicate with Will, as well as facilitate the former’s ability to learn compassion and love; not to mention help set up Will with the beautiful Caroline (Frieda Pinto – Slumdog Millionaire, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, Immortals).

Nevertheless, the cure also makes Caesar realise that he is different from humans. After being taken into captivity, and being maltreated by Dodge (Tom Felton – The Borrowers, Harry Potter I-VII(i) & VII(ii), The Apparition), Caesar uses his brain to the maximum. Then, in a Lenin-like moment, he calls upon all the apes of San Francisco (rather than the workers of the world) to unite and fight back against human rule. Thus, begins the ‘Ape revolution.’ But where will it end?

Dodge (Tom Felton) making sure that all the apes are locked in their cages.

For a little over an hour, the storyline and the dialogue for Rise of the Planet of the Apes is easy to follow, engaging and intelligent. Christopher Wyatt’s (The Escapist) film appears to hold great promise, but, alas, it goes badly off on a tangent for the last forty minutes. Several elements of the movie are left incomplete and unexplained; for example, at the sanctuary there are at most two dozen apes, but when Caesar leads the revolution there are hundreds. Where did they all come from, and how did they all become so intelligent?

The plot may have its flaws, but the acting by Andy Serkis makes the film worth watching. Serkis, in another Gollum-like role (albeit without the schizophrenia and dual-personality disorder), delivers another impressive performance. Using facial expressions, gesticulations and sign language, Serkis gives Caesar some very human characteristics that force viewers to empathise with Caesar’s situation (at least for the majority of the film).

Serkis’ performance is undoubtedly the best of the cast. Nevertheless, James Franco and John Lithgow (Shrek, Dreamgirls, New Year’s Eve), who plays Will’s father, don’t play badly either, even if their roles are not especially challenging. The same, though, cannot be said for Freida Pinto, Tom Felton and David Oyelowo (Derailed, The Last King of Scotland, The Help), who plays as Will’s boss at the laboratory. Again, none of their roles are challenging and they may not have much screen time. But when they do appear, they all have two-dimensional characters that sound awfully contrived. And, in Felton’s case, if he plays a character similar to Draco Malfoy once more he risks being type-casted.

Brotherly love between the fully grown Caesar (played by Andy Serkis) and Will.

With the exception of Serkis, the acting may not be notable. Nevertheless, the music is uplifting and apt for every scene, thereby making the movie that bit more gripping. Similarly, the special effects throughout the film are pretty decent. More often than not, one would believe that it is a real chimpanzee climbing through the trees, rather than it being part-Serkis, part-CGI.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is an enjoyable movie. Serkis delivers another sterling performance. With the aid of some brilliant CGI, he is able to give his ape a very human feel. It is a shame for him that most other aspects of the movie are not on the same level. In many ways, Rise of the Planet of the Apes epitomises revolutions in general. It loses its way.

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Review – Captain America: The First Avenger 3D (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 2/5

Since when did a man wearing a bright, tight costume become a symbol of heroism in war? Only in the world of comic-books could this be possible. Indeed, whilst watching Captain America: The First Avenger (a prequel to The Avengers Assemble, due out next spring), one has to remind oneself where this (Marvel) superhero comes from to remotely appreciate the film.

Steven Rogers (Chris Evans) suddenly all toned after coming out of the machine that turns him into a superhero.

Captain America is set in the early-1940s, during World War II. Steven Rogers (Chris Evans – Fantastic Four I & II, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, The Avengers Assemble) is a small, scrawny young man from Brooklyn, who is desperate to join the American army. Except, he keeps getting rejected. It is only when Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci – The Devil Wears Prada, Burlesque, The Lovely Bones), a German-American doctor/scientist, wants to conduct an experiment on him that Steven is given the chance to enter the war.

Dr. Erskine wants to turn Steven into a super-strong human weapon, capable of defeating Johann Schmidt/Red Face (Hugo Weaving – Transformers IIII, The Wolfman, The Hobbit I), Erskine’s other experiment that went awry. Schmidt is a Nazi, and one of Hitler’s main henchmen. Schmidt, however, has his own intentions, such as destroying the world by using the almighty power in the Tesseract, a translucent cube, of King Odin of Asgard, Thor’s father. Only the enhanced Steven – Captain America – armed with a shield bearing the stars and stripes, can stop Schmidt from implementing his plan.

Captain America’s nemesis, Red Face (Hugo Weaving). If he’s a Nazi, where’s the swastika insignia on his arm?

The storyline can be followed easily and runs at a fairly decent pace. But at two hours, the movie could have done with being a bit shorter. Undoubtedly, one has to take the plot with a pinch of salt. When one watches Captain America take on whole armies in military fortresses, cheesy images of Chuck Norris and Arnold Schwarzenegger with double-barrelled machine-guns (and seemingly limitless ammunition) spring to mind. This never bodes too well for a modern-day action movie, and Captain America is not immune from this either.

If the late-1980s/early-1990s action scenes don’t make one laugh, then the piteous acting and dialogue certainly will. The eponymous characters in Iron Man I & II and Thor (the other prequels to the upcoming The Avengers Assemble) may have lacked the depth of the main characters in X-Men: First Class, not to mention those in Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, but at least Iron Man and Thor had arrogance, swagger and humour. None of the characters in Joe Johnson’s (Jumanji, Jurassic Park III, The Wolfman) Captain America have any real substance. They take themselves daftly seriously, with perhaps the exception of Tommy Lee Jones (The Fugitive, Men In Black I-III, Lincoln), playing Colonel Chester Philips. Apart from him, the cast (including the usually sound Hugo Weaving) come across as wooden and shallow. They also say some embarrassingly cliché lines (even for a comic-book movie!) that do them no favours.

Captain America all dressed and ready for battle.

The music is little better than the acting. The same can be said for the special effects and the 3D. That does not mean that the special effects are disastrously poor; they are just not of the exceptional quality as those in Transformers III. The 3D, however, is virtually unnoticeable.

Captain America is unquestionably simplistic and appeals almost exclusively to Marvel comic-book fans. It distinctly lacks all the appeals and complexities of Nolan’s Batman series or Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class. Then again, with a propaganda-inclined title, what else should one expect?

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Review – Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows: Part II 3D (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 3.5/5

So, after more than 1,048 mostly tedious minutes, the boy wizard, Harry Potter, finally comes face to face with his arch nemesis, Lord Voldemort, in this epic final volume of the Harry Potter series. Better than the previous seven films by a considerable distance (not that that is much of a feat), Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows: Part II reaches all expectations in predictable fashion.

Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) secretly leading Harry, Hermione and Ron back into Hogwarts.

Part II follows on from where Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows: Part I finished off. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe – Harry Potter I-VII(i), The Woman In Black), Hermione (Emma Watson – Harry Potter I-VII(i), My Week With Marilyn) and Ron (Rupert Grint – Harry Potter I-VII(i)) must find and destroy the remaining Horcruxes. Only by wiping them out will the trio weaken Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes – Harry Potter IV, V & VII(i), Prince of Egypt, Coriolanus) sufficiently for Harry to stand a chance of defeating him, especially now that the former is armed with the powerful Elder Wand.

But the journey to locate the Horcruxes – not to mention battling it out with the fearsome villains – is fraught with perils. All will end where it began for the staff and pupils of Hogwarts: the school itself. What cost will Harry have to pay for finishing the task set for him by his deceased tutor, Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon – Harry Potter III-VII(i), Ali G Indahouse, The King’s Speech)?

Unlike Part I, the plot for Part II moves at a decent pace without being intense. (Although, one is subconsciously urging the film to quicken so he/she can see how the final duel plays out.) There are flaws in the storyline; however, it would be unfair to criticise director David Yates (Harry Potter III-VII(i)) for these because he has a duty to accurately follow the book, written by JK Rowling, that the film is based upon. Indeed, Yates would have been chastised if he had dared not kept to the book almost to the letter.

Voldemort, Belatrix (Helena Bonham Carter – Suffragette) and Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs) leading the Death Eaters to the perimeter of Hogwarts, ready to lay siege to the school.

Whilst the plot cannot be criticised, the acting certainly can. Once again, the majority of the cast flatter to deceive. One can clearly see that the position for Hogwarts, besieged by Voldemort and the Death Eaters, is dire for much of the movie. But because the acting is by Radcliffe, Watson and Grint is so poor it is hard to empathise with the situation. (The lack of a moving music score does not help either.) Moreover, if Harry’s return to Hogwarts was supposed to inspire hope in the beleaguered school’s pupils and staff, Radcliffe fails miserably to achieve this. (If one thinks back to how well the actors portray the desperate situations in The Two Towers and The Return of the King – parts II & III of The Lord of the Rings series, – or how much confidence Aragorn, played by Viggo Mortensen, arouses in the peoples of Rohan and Gondor just by his presence, it becomes embarrassing to compare the acting by the cast of those two films to that of Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows: Part II.) And what’s with those spontaneous kisses in the midst of combat? Viewing such kisses was awful and cringe-worthy in Pirates of the Caribbean III: At World’s End, and (unsurprisingly) watching them here was just as awful and cringe-worthy. Yates must have been aware of this, so why did he do it? Surely, there were better places to stick in the smooches than at a time when someone’s head could have been zapped into oblivion?

Voldemort

Voldemort and Harry battling it out one last time with their wands in the ruins of Hogwarts.

Nonetheless, the acting was never going to be the most important aspect of Part II. The success of the film was always going to hinge on the CGI and the final duel between Harry and Voldemort. Neither of these let the viewers down and are highly impressive. What’s more, the 3D adds considerably to the spectacle.

So, the Harry Potter series concludes with aplomb. If the acting by the protagonists would have been better, Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows: Part II may have rivalled The Return of the King. Still though, in Part II, one is treated to a feast of CGI as well as an epic duel that ensures eyes remain glued to the screen. Harry Potter fans and non-fans alike have waited ten years for Harry to face Voldemort. Few will go home disappointed. Finales do not often end on such a high.

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Review – True Grit (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 5/5

Less than four years since they made the Oscar-winning No Country For Old Men, the Coen brothers, Ethan and Joel (A Simple Man, Burn After Reading), have returned to the ‘cowboy genre’ with a bang (pardon the pun). No Country For Old Men was a brilliant film. True Grit is even better.

The plot for True Grit is quite straightforward. Based in a small town in Midwest America in the late-nineteenth century, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin – No Country For Old Men, Wall Street 2, American Gangster) killed Frank Ross in cold murder. Frank’s extremely intelligent, precocious fourteen-year-old daughter, Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld), is determined to have her father’s death avenged. After the local law enforcement agency refuses to chase Chaney, Mattie employs Rooster (Jeff Bridges – Crazy Heart, The Big Lebowski, Seventh Son), a drunk and ruthless cowboy to find Chaney.

A drunk Rooster, played by Jeff Bridges, trying to shoot accurately on the back of a horse.

As Mattie strikes a deal with Rooster; Laboeuf (Matt Damon – The Bourne Identity, The Departed, Invictus), a dumb but wily Texan Ranger emerges. Laboeuf also wants Chaney. The latter is wanted in Texas for the murder of a senator. Despite some differences on where Chaney should be tried (Mattie wants him to be put to justice in her town, while Laboeuf needs to bring him back to Texas or else he won’t get paid), Mattie, Rooster and Laboeuf head off together in search of their man.

If the storyline does not make one believe that True Grit should have been a five-star film, the flawless and Oscar-worthy acting certainly will. Jeff Bridges splendidly captures the attitude, habits and language of an aging, drunk-but-funny, Midwest, trigger-happy cowboy. Similarly, Matt Damon illustrates that being a far-from-bright ranger on a horseback comes just as naturally to him as being the secret agent, Jason Bourne.

Yet, the performances of Bridges and Damon are cast into the shadows by that of Steinfeld. If the star of No Country For Old Men was the frighteningly serene villain with red-rimmed-eyes, played by Javier Bardem, then Steinfeld is the stand-out entertainer of True Grit. Mattie’s ability to understand the complexities of law; her ability to see through people as if they were opaque, plus her witty tongue are all down to the proficiency of Steinfeld. It almost beggar’s belief that Mattie was played by a fourteen-year-old! Indeed, one will struggle to witness a more assured and mature performance from someone of her age over the coming decade.

Mattie attempting to feed the ill-tempered Laboeuf beside a campfire one night.

The acting, however, would not be half as impressive if the characters would have been without well-written scripts. They might have got away with it provided they’d have just maintained strong Midwest accents (like Russell Crowe and Christian Bale did in 3:10 To Yuma); but the three main actors do more than that in this movie. Bridges, Damon and Steinfeld adopt a dialogue that one can realistically imagine ‘Middle Americans’ once using (or even still use in some places today). That there are no lapses whilst they talk in this semi-alien tongue makes their performances all the more remarkable.

The magnificent acting and dialogue are matched by the choreography, music and landscapes throughout the film. Each scene smoothly slots in, one after another, without interruption. In addition, the music is always fitting for the scene; as are the differing sceneries the Coen brothers have employed, showing us that Midwest America is more than just a desert with a dozens of cacti.

In short, True Grit is a model of a film and a realistic portrayal of how cowboys used to go about their business. One does not need to be a fan of Western-style movies to appreciate that from the directing; to the production; to the writing of the screenplay and the music scores; to the acting, True Grit is as close to perfect as a film can be.

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