Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

These damn apes outsmarted me again!  When Rise of the Planet of the Apes burst onto the scene three summers ago, I had grave misgivings. The concept was always inherently silly, and it was hard to imagine any kind of re-imagining of the cult/camp classics from the 1960’s and 1970’s making any kind of sense.  But, lo and behold, Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a finely crafted piece of entertainment with amazing effects, an emotionally involving story, a stupendous lead performance from Andy Serkis as super ape Caesar, and confident direction from maestro Rupert Wyatt.  When the film’s surprise success guaranteed sequels, I was crushed to learn Wyatt would not be returning in the director’s chair.  In whose hands could a sequel make any kind of sense?  This thing would be a debacle or at the very least have a bad case of sequel-itis, right?

Well, here I am, dear readers, admitting I was wrong…again.  Apparently Matt Reeves (who for far too long, lived under the thumb of the overrated Hollywood demigod J.J. Abrams) can direct the heck out of an Apes flick.  Dawn of the Planet of the Apes capitalizes with expert precision on the goodwill from the first film, once again putting Serkis as Caesar and the other apes front and center, ups the emotional ante, ups the action, and mines the very best elements from uber-popular TV shows to be massively appealing to a broad audience without ever seeming to kowtow to the masses.

Ten years following the events of the first film, the human race has been nearly wiped out by the simian flu, and Caesar and pals have set up a peaceful little society in the redwood forests outside of San Francisco.  But behold, there are some humans still struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic community downtown, and they come up into Caesar’s territory to get a dam running again that will bring power back to the city.  The film opens from the apes’ point of view, and for nearly twenty minutes they are the only characters on-screen.  It’s a big gamble to start the film this way, but the amazing effects make the apes seem more human and relatable than ever, with Serkis and Toby Kebbell as Koba giving Oscar-worthy performances.  The humans contain a sympathetic makeshift family (made up of Jason Clarke, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Reeves’ very own Felicity alum and muse Keri Russell) and a questionable leader played by Gary Oldman.  Quickly we learn the apes, like the humans, are divided into two factions: those hoping for peaceful coexistence, and those who are far too trigger-happy and untrustworthy. Continue reading

Bootlegging, Brothers and Chastain in Lawless

The ubiquitous Tom Hardy teams up with the ubiquitous Jessica Chastain for Lawless.

In Prohibition Era Virginia, in those verdant smoky hills of Franklin County, the bootlegging Bondurant Brothers are the kings of a moonshine ring operating peacefully with the local law enforcement and treated as legends by the townsfolk.  Oldest brother Forrest (Tom Hardy) is known for his stoic invincibility (he survived WWI and Spanish influenza), middle brother Howard (Jason Clarke) is a barely functioning drunk who wields quick fists of justice, and youngest sibling Jack (Shia LaBeouf) has been living in their shadows as the kid brother too afraid to take a stand or shoot a gun.  When a big-time gangster from Chicago named Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman) comes down into the area for business, Jack is in awe and sees it as an opportunity to recast himself as a savvy hot-shot.  But with Banner’s big business comes a new ruthless big city lawman, Special Deputy Charles Rakes (Guy Pearce) looking to break-up the Bondurants and their cohorts through any means necessary.

Lawless director John Hillcoat is no stranger to this brand of lawlessness.  His blisteringly violent and philosophical Aussie Western The Proposition was one of my favorite films of 2006.  He then went on to paint a lawless post-apocalyptic vision in his dour adaptation of the dour novel, The Road.  As with The Proposition, Hillcoat re-teams with screenwriter and musician Nick Cave, who adapted the story from Matt Bondurant’s own family history, The Wettest County in the World, while working again on the score with Warren Ellis.  Continue reading