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Movie Review: War for the Planet of the Apes


Andy Serkis is the ringmaster in the reboot series of The Planet of the Apes. A pioneer of iconic digital characters, having played Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, he's done it again with Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and now War for the Planet of the Apes. His latest action-adventure sees Caesar, the figurehead and lead for the series, rightfully front and centre. The character has not only developed in terms of characterisation, but in terms of screen time, occupying the lead role without "help" from supporting name actors.

In fact, War for the Planet of the Apes is taken almost entirely from the ape perspective without the film-makers trying to balance things out with human actors. James Franco, Frieda Pinto and John Lithgow helped stabilise the series in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Gary Oldman augmented the ensemble in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, while War for the Planet of the Apes almost abandons this format completely. The only noteworthy human actors are Amiah Miller, who echoes Dakota Fanning's star-making role in War of the Worlds and Mr. Dependable, Woody Harrelson.

Perhaps the notion of being overshadowed by a digital actor has made many weary to play opposite Serkis, who has carried the new series with a brooding, guarded and soulful performance. Either way, Matt Reeves, the film-maker who took over directing the series from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has done the near unthinkable by populating his film with digitally rendered motion capture performers. Toby Kebbell took on a bigger part for Dawn as Koba, a second-in-command and understudy role opposite Serkis. Now the ensemble is dominated by "ape" actors with more speaking parts emerging.

War for the Planet of the Apes

"It's too late to call shotgun!

Following a devastating blow to the apes, the herd seek a more long-term sanctuary as Caesar sets out on a quest to take revenge on those responsible. The third installment has been influenced by Biblical epics, more specifically the war film, Apocalypse Now. Set against a cold and icy winter, the migration scenes and story's impetus have correlations with the Exodus. Then, following a similar trajectory to Apocalypse Now, Caesar's epic journey to confront the his aggressor echoes the classic rivalry between Martin Sheen and Marlon Brando as Colonel Kurtz.

Harrelson's not as immense as Kurtz, yet conveys a darker maniacal side than we're used to seeing. He's a worthy adversary for Caesar and makes it easy for the audience to pick sides. The magic of War for the Planet of the Apes is that Reeves is able to bring us to the realisation that while good and bad exist for both species, we've got more empathy for the anthropomorphic ape kind. While the adventure is epic and the action is enthralling, he takes the time to exact some heartfelt drama as moments of innocence and mercy spring up in the snow. While the struggle is serious and the running time is long, Reeves employs some comedy to lighten the intense and brooding atmosphere.

While these bursts of levity are welcome and funny, the tonal shift isn't quite as welcome. One character drives this comic relief gimmick, adding to the entertainment value in an almost plausible manner with a style of comedy that is jarring against the big picture. Then, various story elements just don't add up and could've used more forethought and extrapolation. It's hampered by the treatment of Caesar in the third act, the consistency of communication among the herd and even a few contrivances and cliches in terms of bringing it home.

Apart from some strong performances, the real wonder of War for the Planet of the Apes is the visual effects wizardry. We're completely immersed in the story as one amazing film location is populated with digital hybrids only to segue into another. The balance of landscape and characters is quite breathtaking at times as we marvel at the fine detail of a close up of the orangutan, Maurice, only to return to Andy Serkis and his complete embodiment of Caesar. While this is the third film in the series, there's a marked maturity, greater understanding and improvement over its predecessors and not only in terms of the ape characters.

War for the Planet of the Apes has its flaws, but the majesty of the visual tapestry, the ambitious role reversal, heartrending war drama and nature of the performances makes for an entertaining and spellbinding epic. It's the best film in the trilogy, showcasing just how far Hollywood has come in terms of CGI and mocap, delivering an awe-inspiring spectacle that chalks up a big win for the evolution of live-action digital characters under the rightful command of Andy Serkis.

The bottom line: Captivating


 
Talking Movies with Spling - Spider-Man: Homecoming, This Beautiful Fantastic and Michael Moore in Trumpland


Spling reviews Spider-Man: Homecoming, This Beautiful Fantastic and Michael Moore in Trumpland as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.

 
Movie Review: Spider-Man - Homecoming


"Spider-Man, Spider-Man, Spider-Man..." no, this isn't the theme tune. It's how you'd sound counting the number of Spider-Man franchises over the last 15 years. While this superhero has had as many actors don the web-tangled red-and-blue as there have been Hulks in as many years, it's starting to get ridiculous. No one ever thought they'd see Garfield and Spider-Man in the same movie, let alone the same sentence, and yet it happened with The Amazing Spider-Man. Andrew Garfield is a terrific actor and did a great job, picking up from where Tobey Maguire and Sam Raimi left off, teaming up with Marc Webb (yes, Webb) to reboot a franchise that self-imploded in the sandblasted Spider-Man 3.

While The Amazing Spider-Man was actually fresh, it also struggled with an "electrifying" sequel that tried to capture the Twilight audience at the behest of its fan boy populace. As peppy as Emma Stone was, the sequel was overcooked like Spider-Man 3 and left audiences bewildered. If you want a superhero movie done right, leave it to Marvel, which is probably why they swooped in like a valkyrie to pick up the troubled franchise for yet another reboot. To get things started, Spidey was introduced in Captain America: Civil War, giving Tom Holland a chance to dip his toe in the superhero hot tub. The cameo was most welcome, injecting the Marvel machismo with a bit of goofy youth and cuing the tone of Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Homecoming was also a big clue. Much like Edgar Wright re-imagined the heist caper as a superhero movie with Ant-Man, we're dealing with a high school comedy romance retooled as a superhero flick with Spidey. In an age where superhero movies are spawning quicker than well... spawn, filmmakers are trying to keep things zippy and fresh. This can be said for Spider-Man: Homecoming, which is enthralling and full of zest thanks to its youthful energy and playful tone.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

"I wear this mask because... you know, stranger danger!"

Tom Holland is an unassumingly likable go-getter, who will inevitably play Bond when he comes of age. His British-ness makes him a bit more reserved than the recent spate of superheroes and this works magically for the awkward teen comedy. Homecoming is reminiscent of films like Superbad in terms of offbeat comedy and great chemistry between Peter and his best friend, Ned. While the language and dick jokes are thankfully retired, Holland and Batalon have got a super vibe that borrows a bit of The Big Bang Theory's charm to spice up their underdog bromance and girlfriend troubles.

The clumsy teen comedy and full-tilt action fit together quite masterfully as director Jon Watts steers a screenplay with six writing credits. While the action sequences are fresh and well-choreographed, the real strength of Spider-Man: Homecoming is in the characters. Sporting an ensemble including: Michael Keaton, Marisa Tomei, Robert Downey Jr., Jon Favreau, Gwyneth Paltrow and Zendaya, they've brought some strong acting talent to support Holland. Michael Keaton gets a chance to expel some of that Birdman energy, Robert Downey Jr. is enjoyable albeit purposefully awkward in a father role, Jon Favreau is funny as Happy, the dog's body, Zendaya is a blast as a quirky high schooler and it would have been good to see more of Marisa Tomei and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Every actor pulls their weight and shares the screen like a team, maintaining the dramatic integrity of each scene whilst keeping the audience invested in Peter's coming-of-age journey. Watts maintains visual integrity too, seamlessly integrating some thrilling stunts and visual effects into the action. The mentor/father figure relationship between Peter and Tony is a bit awkward, even if purposefully so, and there are question marks hanging over Stark's domination of the Marvel universe. Then, there are one or two crucial moments that don't make complete sense, but these are little hiccups in the big picture.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is an all-rounder: packing a punch, activating a belly laugh, jam-packing surprises while keeping us in suspense. The characters are delightful, lovable and easy to get behind thanks to full performances. The visual effects are ever-present and yet ever-invisible, while the film-makers keep things upbeat, fun, well-balanced and entertaining. Spider-Man: Homecoming is a blast and for the most part, manages to duck under falling debris. It may not be the best Spider-Man, but it's right up there with the best of them!

 
Neill Blomkamp's Changing the Game with Oats Studios


Neill Blomkamp is the director who brought us District 9, Elysium and Chappie. After racking up a strong collection of sci-fi films, he's decided to take his film talent to new levels of creativity, passion and independence with Oats Studios, a film collective that is creating short films that give Blomkamp a chance to extrapolate his ideas by fleshing them out. By releasing short films, he's getting a chance to garner feedback and financial support from fans around the world.

The broader idea is that these shorts will eventually become films or TV series, making Oats Studios a fan-funded idea incubator in action. So far, he's released Rakka Vol. 1, Firebase Vol. 1 and Zygote Vol. 1, which you can watch below. Rakka takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where an alien race is using mind control to suppress the surviving human race and Firebase is set in 1970s Vietnam as strange forces create havoc among the stationed troops. Zygote echoes the frozen facility horror of The Thing with spine-chilling style. Be warned, viewer discretion is advised as these films are graphic and not for sensitive viewers.

 
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