Thursday, 4 August 2011

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes

(M) ★★★★

Director: Rupert Wyatt.

Cast: Andy Serkis, James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton.

"James, we need to talk about your unhealthy passion for Seth Rogen."

AFTER Tim Burton's mis-fired "re-imagining" of the classic Planet Of The Apes in 2001, no one was really clamouring for someone to try again at restarting the saga of a world where primates are superior to humans.

But here we are with Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, an unwanted but surprisingly awesome film that either serves as a new origin story or a prequel to the Charlton Heston-starring original, depending how you look at it (or how they screw it all up with a sequel).

Franco plays Will Rodman, a scientist working on an Alzheimer's cure by testing it on chimps in the hopes to save his dad's deteriorating mind.

When one of the test subjects goes, ahem, ape droppings, the experiment is closed down and Will makes some rash decisions - he takes home a baby chimp rather than put it down, and begins testing the cure on his father.

If you're wondering how a set-up like this could lead to a chimp-fuelled overthrow of humanity, that's part of the beauty of Rise....

The slow downward spiral of the film from this intriguing starting point is engrossing, especially the way it suddenly flips on you and you realise you're barracking for the apes, not the humans.

For a blockbuster spectacle, it's surprisingly sharp and subtle in places, even if some plot points unravel the more you think about it, particularly the idea that a chimp in a scientific test could be pregnant and give birth without any of the scientists/handlers knowing about it.

But Rise...'s flaws can be largely forgiven because it's hugely entertaining, reasonably intelligent in its story-telling and offers some magical, beautiful and horrifying moments along the way.

The lead ape, Caesar, is a great character, brought to life wonderfully by Serkis and a team of motion-capture boffins, who imbue him with a level of humanity and nobility. The effects, for the most part, are pretty good - as is to be expected in this day and age - and the final rampage of primates versus the police has some undoubtedly cool moments.

Rise... doesn't slavishly reference the previously made Apes movies, getting by with a handful of references, but it does offer one zinger; a "holy crap!" moment revolving around the original film's "get your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape" line.

This won't be a classic like the 1968 one but the "wow" feeling that it leaves you with as you exit the cinema makes it well worth the price of admission.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Cars 2

(PG) ★★

Director: John Lasseter & Brad Lewis.

Cast: (voices) Owen Wilson, Larry The Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Eddie Izzard, John Turturro.

Cool cars never look back at the explosion.

IT'S finally happened. Pixar's mythical run of great films is over.

Adding insult to injury is that it's come with a sequel that no one really wanted except the merchandise money counters - Cars is generally regarded as a good film, but certainly the runt of the Pixar litter.

It's hard to know where to start with this movie. It's a sequel to Cars in as much as it's set in the same alternate reality (ie. a world of inhabited entirely by vehicles) and the main characters return in varying amounts.

That's where the similarity ends. Cars 2 is a James Bond homage that focuses on first film sidekick Mater (Larry The Cable Guy) as the accidental secret agent in an environmentally fuelled tale of espionage, set against the backdrop of a tri-series car race that promotes a type of bio-diesel.

Meanwhile, some of the emotional themes fly in the face of the first film, in which NASCAR upstart Lightning McQueen is forced to slow his life down and adapt to the pace of rural life so as not to upset anyone (and learn some lessons about humility). Here the message is be yourself no matter what and don't change for anybody, even if you're being an ignorant laughing stock who's upsetting people (although there are some other lessons along the way but this is the main one).

Like an automobile, Cars 2 is cold and emotionless. It's also sadly humourless, unless your idea of a hilarious joke is "Japanese toilets are different to Western toilets" or wanting to see how far the film-makers can push the "cars do wacky human things" envelope.

With no heart to it, we're left with a so-so spy movie that bizarrely stars cars, in particular Mater. A decent sidekick and comic relief character in the first film, he becomes almost painful to endure as a lead, although the film does improve as he eventually comes into his own.

As you would expect with Pixar, Cars 2 looks spectacular, and there are some interesting ideas, such as the environmental theme and elements of the espionage parody, plus the ending is strong.

But overall it feels like three different movies welded together or - worst of all - that Pixar is running out of ideas. Even the pre-film short is a return visit from the Toy Story team (albeit a welcome comeback).

However, the presence of Woody and Buzz just serves to remind you of how good Pixar sequels can be, and how disappointing this one is.