Film Review – DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014)

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014, Chernin Entertainment/ TSG Entertainment, USA, 131 mins, Colour, 1.85:1, Dolby Atmos/SDDS/Datasat, Cert: 12, Sci-Fi Action Thriller) ∗∗∗
      Starring: Andy Serkis (Caesar), Jason Clarke (Malcolm), Gary Oldman (Dreyfus), Keri Russell (Ellie), Toby Kebbell (Koba), Kodi Smit-McPhee (Alexander), Kirk Acevedo (Carver), Nick Thurston (Blue Eyes), Terry Notary (Rocket), Karin Konoval (Maurice), Judy Greer (Cornelia), Jon Eyez (Foster), Enrique Murciano (Kemp), Larramie Doc Shaw (Ash), Lee Ross (Grey).
      Producer: Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver; Director: Matt Reeves; Writer: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver  (Based on Characters created by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver; Premise suggested by the novel “Planet of the Apes” by Pierre Boulle); Director of Photography: Michael Seresin; Music: Michael Giacchino; Film Editor: William Hoy, Stan Salfas; Production Designer: James Chinlund; Art Director: Naaman Marshall; Set Decorator: Amanda Moss Serino; Costume Designer: Melissa Bruning.

10978699-1414085339-78304The sequel to RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is a rousing continuation of the franchise. Ten years after a pandemic disease seen in that film, the apes who have survived are drawn into battle with a group of human survivors who seek to restore power to the city of San Francisco.

The technical achievements of this film are huge, from the brilliantly conceived apes with CGI mapped over the physical performance of real human actors, to the excellent design work. Andy Serkis is again excellent at conveying Caesar’s internal conflict and a nod should also go to Toby Kebell who as Koba, the rebellious ape carried forward from the first movie where he was played by Christopher Gordon.

The human actors are headed up by Gary Oldman, as the leader of the survivors and Jason Clarke as Malcolm, who acts as the bridge between the ape and human colonies. The drama unfolds around the conflict Caesar feels with doing what’s right for his ape colony and keeping relations with the humans harmonious. Eventually Koba rebels and, believing he has killed Caesar, leads the apes in an attack on the human colony in a spectacular action sequence which sees the apes take control. However, Caesar has survived and Malcolm helps him restore contact with his son and together they try to put a stop to Koba’s rule.

There are nods to the films roots, notably in the character names Blue Eyes (the nickname given to Charlton Heston in the original) and Maurice (the first name of the actor Maurice Evans who played Dr. Zaius in the same 1968 film). The plot resembles that from the fifth film in the original series BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, but at least this time they have the budget.

Whilst there are moments of pure Hollywood in some of the plotting, by sheer achievement of its ambition in providing intelligent escapist entertainment this is a refreshingly successful addition to the effects driven blockbusters crowding cinemas. Credit goes to director Matt Reeves for giving the story room to breathe rather than just create a succession of action scenes. A third film is in development and should be well worth the wait.

Film Review – GODZILLA (2014)

GODZILLA (2014, Warner Bros./Legendary Pictures, USA/Japan, 123 mins, Colour, 2.35:1, Dolby Atmos/SDDS/Datasat, Cert: 12, Sci-Fi Action Thriller) ∗∗∗∗∗
      Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Ford Brody), Ken Watanabe (Dr. Ishiro Serizawa), Bryan Cranston (Joe Brody), Elizabeth Olsen (Elle Brody), Carson Bolde (Sam Brody), Sally Hawkins (Vivienne Graham), Juliette Binoche (Sandra Brody), David Strathairn (Admiral William Stenz), Richard T. Jones (Captain Russell Hampton), Victor Rasuk (Sergeant Tre Morales), Patrick Sabongui (Lieutenant Commander Marcus Waltz), CJ Adams (Young Ford).
      Producer: Bob Ducsay, Jon Jashni, Mary Parent, Brian Rogers, Thomas Tull; Director: Gareth Edwards; Writer: Max Borenstein (Based on a story by Dave Callaham); Director of Photography: Seamus McGarvey; Music: Alexandre Desplat; Film Editor: Bob Ducsay; Production Designer: Owen Paterson; Art Director: Grant Van Der Slagt; Set Decorator: Elizabeth Wilcox; Costume Designer: Sharen Davis.

Godzilla_2014_Blu-ray_DVD_Digital_Download_Ultra_VioletUnlike Roland Emmerich’s 1998 version this is a straight remake of the 1954 Japanese monster movie classic. Here, the world’s most famous monster is pitted against malevolent creatures who, bolstered by humanity’s scientific arrogance, threaten our very existence.

The set-up is well paced and promises a much more serious take on the subject. Cranston makes an effective misunderstood professor carrying an earnestness in his performance reminiscent of Harrison Ford. It’s a shame he disappears from the action too early as his character is presented as the focal point of the plot early on. Instead it is Taylor-Johnson, as his soldier son trying to re-unite with his family, who takes centre stage and the film veers into more typical destruction and mayhem. Godzilla is kept off screen for much of the film but some action in Hawaii and then the extended finale in San Francisco, where the creature battles the parasites, provide a showcase for the visual effects team.

Action fans will lap up the second half of the movie, whilst those looking for more intelligent film-making will feel slightly disappointed the production team wastes its promising opening by giving over the second half of the movie to technicians.

Film Review – A LONELY PLACE TO DIE (2011)

A LONELY PLACE TO DIE (2011, Carnaby International / Eigerwand Pictures / Molinare Studio, 99 mins, Colour, 2.35:1, Dolby Digital, Cert: 15, Action Crime Thriller) ∗∗∗∗∗
      Starring: Alec Newman (Rob), Ed Speleers (Ed), Melissa George (Alison), Kate Magowan (Jenny), Garry Sweeney (Alex), Holly Boyd (Anna), Douglas Russell (Hunter 1), Alan Steele (Hunter 2), Sean Harris (Mr. Kidd), Stephen McCole (Mr. Mcrae), Karel Roden (Darko), Eamonn Walker (Andy), Paul Anderson (Chris), Eric Barlow (Sergeant Gray), Jamie Edgell (House Owner), Mathew Zajac (Mr. Rakovic).
      Producer: Michael Loveday; Director: Julian Gilbey; Writer: Julian Gilbey, Will Gilbey; Director of Photography: Ali Asad; Music: Michael Richard Plowman; Film Editor: Julian Gilbey, Will Gilbey; Production Designer: Matthew Button; Art Director: Daniela Faggio; Set Decorator: Cathy Featherstone; Costume Designer: Hayley Nebauer.

A Lonely Place to DieThe Gilbey brothers have written a neat little B-movie thriller, which makes effective use of its Scottish Highland setting. The story surrounds a group of mountaineers who discover a kidnapped girl buried underground and are pursued by her captors. The girl’s father has hired a group of mercenaries to retrieve her and when the three groups converge on a remote Scottish village in the middle of a Paegan festival a blood bath starts.

The mountain climbing scenes are authentically captured by director Julian Gilbey and the chase scenes on the mountain are gripping as the climbers and the girl are pursued by the kidnappers. The action in the closing village scenes is brutal and the whole thing becomes little more than a bloodbath in its finale. Characterisations are also in short supply, with the actors merely being cyphers for the plot. But the camerawork is excellent and the tension is maintained throughout.

A good example of using location and editing to get the best out of a slight story on a limited budget.

Film Review – JUGGERNAUT (1974)

JUGGERNAUT (1974, David V. Picker Productions/Two Roads Productions, 109 mins, Colour, 1.66:1, Mono, Cert: PG, Action Thriller) ∗∗∗
      Starring: Richard Harris (Lt. Cmdr. Anthony Fallon), Omar Sharif (Captain Alex Brunel), David Hemmings (Charlie Braddock), Anthony Hopkins (Supt. John McLeod), Shirley Knight (Barbara Bannister), Ian Holm (Nicholas Porter), Clifton James (Corrigan), Roy Kinnear (Social Director Curtain), Caroline Mortimer (Susan McLeod), Mark Burns (Hollingsworth), John Stride (Hughes), Freddie Jones (Sidney Buckland), Julian Glover (Commander Marder), Jack Watson (Chief Engineer Mallicent), Roshan Seth (Azad).
      Producer: Richard Alan Simmons (as Richard De Koker); Director: Richard Lester; Writer: Richard Alan Simmons (as Richard De Koker); Director of Photography: Gerry Fisher (De Luxe); Music: Ken Thorne; Film Editor: Antony Gibbs; Production Designer: Terence Marsh, Art Director: Alan Tomkins; Costume Designer: Evangeline Harrison.

Jug1Like GOLD, which I reviewed recently, JUGGERNAUT is another unfairly overlooked film from 1974. Set aboard the Britannic, a cruise ship crossing the Atlantic on which seven bombs have been planted by an extortionist, the story wittily plays around with standard disaster movie conventions. This is largely down to director Richard Lester’s observational and down-to-earth approach to filmmaking. Whilst the standard genre approach around establishing multi-character backgrounds amongst the passengers is adopted, Lester inhabits the story with a quirkiness in characterisation that somehow makes them more real than those seen in the bigger-budget blockbsuters of the day such as EARTHQUAKE and THE TOWERING INFERNO.

Lester is helped by an excellent cast including Hopkins as the detective tasked with tracking down the bomber, whilst his wife and family are aboard the Britannic. This situation could have become clichéd, but here comes across much more real due to the downplaying of the actors and Lester’s fly-on-the-wall approach to filming scenes. Harris is also on top form in the lead as the bomb disposal expert, Fallon, charged with de-activating Juggernaut’s seven bombs. Sharif plays the cold-hearted ship’s captain, involved in an affair with Knight whilst Kinnear is the other memorable performer as the ship’s entertainer, who won’t accept defeat in trying to lift the spirits of the passengers. Ian Holm, Julian Glover, David Hemmings, Freddie Jones and Clifton James all round out a diverse cast that keeps the film’s audience interested with their diverse characters.

The tension mounts during the bomb defusing sequences, and using an actual ship to film on adds to the sense of realism. Lester intersperses all of this with his trademark observational humour and overdubbed asides. Whilst acknowledging the conventions of its genre, Lester brings a fresh approach to it, which makes for a winning formula.

Film Review – GOLD (1974)

GOLD (1974, Killarney Film Studios, UK, 120 mins, Colour, 2.35:1, Mono, Cert: 12, Action Drama) ∗∗∗∗∗
      Starring: Roger Moore (Rod Slater), Susannah York (Terry Steyner), Ray Milland (Hurry Hirschfeld), Bradford Dillman (Manfred Steyner), John Gielgud (Farrell), Tony Beckley (Stephen Marais), Simon Sabela (Big King), Marc Smith (Tex Kiernan), John Hussey (Plummer), Bernard Horsfall (Dave Kowalski), Bill Brewer (Aristide), Norman Coombes (Frank Lemmer).
      Producer: Michael Klinger; Director: Peter R. Hunt; Writer: Wilbur Smith, Stanley Price (based on the novel “Gold Mine” by Wilbur Smith); Director of Photography: Ousama Rawi (Technicolor); Music: Elmer Bernstein; Film Editor: John Glen; Production Designer: Syd Cain, Alex Vetchinsky, Art Director: Robert W. Laing; Costume Designer: Marjory Cornelius.

Gold_(1974)An overlooked film from the 1970s, this conspiracy action adventure story based on Wilbur Smith’s novel mixes exciting sequences underground with standard plotting and characters above it. Moore plays Rod Slater a mine manager who is set up as the fall guy by Dillman and his team of crooked investors. Their scheme is for Moore to flood the mine with water, whilst he believes he is drilling a new area for gold, and thereby raise the price of gold so Dillman and his crew can cash in.

Moore is excellent as Slater instilling more energy and emotion into the role than in his James Bond movies of the same vintage. In fact many of the Bond crew are on hand here. Peter Hunt, who directed one of the very best Bonds in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, livens the film with his trademark fast editing, supported by future Bond director John Glen, during the action scenes and significantly heightens the tension. The finale is particularly well staged as Moore and Sabela battle their way through the flooding mine in an attempt to seal it with explosives. The supporting cast is strong too with York good as Dillman’s wife and Moore’s love interest; Milland suitably grumpy as the mine owner and Dillman conniving as the director of operations. Gielgud, however, is wasted in a smaller role as the head of the investment syndicate.

With grippingly authentic and well filmed mining scenes making up for those above ground, which sometimes drag, this is a neat movie that deserves some re-appraisal.

Film Review – ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976, The C K K Corporation, USA, 90 mins, Colour, 2.35:1, Mono/DTS 5.1, Cert: 15, Action Thriller) ∗∗∗∗
      Starring: Austin Stoker (Lt. Ethan Bishop), Darwin Joston (Napoleon Wilson), Laurie Zimmer (Leigh), Martin West (Lawson), Tony Burton (Wells), Charles Cyphers (Starker), Nancy Loomis (Julie), Peter Bruni (Ice cream man), John J. Fox (Warden), Marc Ross (Patrolman Tramer), Alan Koss (Patrolman Baxter), Henry Brandon (Chaney), Kim Richards (Kathy).
      Producer: J. S. Kaplan; Director: John Carpenter; Writer: John Carpenter; Director of Photography: Douglas Knapp (Metrocolor); Music: John Carpenter; Film Editor: John Carpenter (as John T. Chance); Art Director: Tommy Wallace.

AssaultOnPrecinct13-blu-ray-814x1024The film that provided the light to the touch paper on the career of its writer and director, John Carpenter (who also handled the music score and editing duties). Carpenter had enjoyed some cult success with his comic sci-fi debut DARK STAR in 1974, but it was this film and its follow-up HALLOWEEN (1978) that cemented the deal.

Much has been said of the movies two major influences. The law under siege coming from Howard Hawks’ RIO BRAVO (1959) and the dialogue-free portrayal of the LA gangs as single-minded and almost zombie-like a nod toward NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968). Carpenter’s use of a pseudonym for his editor credit and Zimmer’s character name acknowledged the former.

The result is an economical and highly entertaining B-movie, which moves at a fair clip. Whilst the cast lacks a certain star wattage, Carpenter gives the actors some memorable dialogue – most notably to Joston, whose running gag “Got a smoke” is another nod to Hawks and westerns in general. Carpenter adds to the tension with his electronic score, which through its simplicity of structure and phrasing heightens the atmosphere. The ice cream van scene is still talked about today for its shock value and is a prime example of how the director could keep an audience on its toes in the early films of his career. The first gun assault on the closed down precinct house was all the more effective for the gang’s use of silencers to avoid their assault being reported from the nearby neighbourhood. The pinging ricochet of bullets and the flutter of papers conveying the sense of danger in a different and more effective way.

Initially dismissed in the US, the film gained its reputation in Europe the year following its release. This led to a re-appraisal by American critics and a re-release when Carpenter’s reputation was sealed with HALLOWEEN. The film itself became the subject of a less effective remake in 2005 and Carpenter would re-work the siege theme in his remake of THE THING (1980) and the later GHOSTS OF MARS (2001).