Rise of the Planet of the Apes – Review

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) 

Directed by Rupert Wyatt. With James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow.

After the recent storm of various unimaginative remakes and reboots, watching this re-imagined prequel of the 1968 Planet of the Apes (mercifully the Tim Burton’s Version from 2001 has been quickly dismissed)  was one of the most enjoyable and refreshing experiences of this summer season!

Finally a blockbuster that is not only big and with incredible special effect, but also smart, fun and emotional at the same time.

Yes, of course, if you stop and think about it all for a moment I’m sure you’ll find it all rather predictable. Right from the start it’s very easy to guess where it’s all heading to (well, it is a prequel after all!!!), however part of the fun is to watch the predictability unfolding under your eyes and it’s all done with such conviction and skills that it even makes the implausible story somehow credible (in fact by the end of it, you do actually buy even the most far-fetched twist… which I won’t give away in here).

The film is even slightly reminiscent of Hitchcock’s The Birds in portraying what would happen if the “animals” started to rebel to humans and took over the earth, but even though the trailer sells it more as a sort of “Invasion of the Apes” type of film, I should probably point out that is only a very small part of the story (possibly the last 20 or 30 minutes only). In fact however big and spectacular some of the action sequences might be, what makes “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” work so well are actually the smaller moments.

The moral message of the film, questioning genetic engineering and the use of animals for medical tests, is anything but subtle and yet at the same time it is a rather surprising spin to the old “planet-of-the-apes” story and it finally gives us the long overdue explanation for all those things we know will be coming in the future films (or rather earlier films). This is one of the most satisfying “origins story” in any recent film.

At the heart of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (such a long title, let’s just call it ROTPOTA) is Caesar: a motion-captured ape, which is a thing of beauty! It’s hard to tell how much of that is Andy Serkis or the amazingly talented computer animators. Whatever it is, this is one of the most accomplished  CG character since Gollum (yet again, another Serkis’ creation): not just in terms of technical achievement (it’s hard to believe that no men in a suite was ever used for the film) but also in terms of being a characters with real feelings and emotions. It is a fascinating and dazzling hybrid of technology and human performance: a real triumph of visual effects!

There are moments in ROTPOTA which are handled like a “mute film” without any dialogue or even music, relying just on images to tell the story, but even more strikingly relying on the expressions on Caesar’s face to tell us everything we need to know.

With such a top-notch character created by special effects, it’s funny to find that the more two-dimentional characters are actually the real people populating this film. Everybody is very good in it, but they’re all very predictable, even more than the story itself. James Franco is likeable enough, but also rather transparent, not to mention Freida Pinto, who has the impossible task to make something out of the thinnest character.. But hey, who cares: she’s beautiful to look at! Tom Felton poor thing doesn’t seem to be able to shake off his bad “Drako” character: he plays it very well, but he’s really just one-dimensional and he’s just there to serve the script. Who knows, maybe one day he’ll be able to get a different part where he can actually smile as well as being as asshole. John Lithgow proves once again that he’s the type of actor who, with the right script, could win an Oscar… Sadly this isn’t that script. And finally Brian Cox who is completely wasted comes and goes without really leaving any mark.

But all this doesn’t take anything away from an overall cracking action film: if only all blockbusters were like these, our summer at the movies would have been a lot more enjoyable than it actually has.

8/10

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 – Review

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (2011)

Directed by David Yates. With Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Michael GambonRalph FiennesAlan RickmanJohn HurtHelena Bonham CarterTom FeltonJason Isaacs (hello!), Maggie SmithJim BroadbentDavid ThewlisRobbie ColtranGary Oldman.

(SOME SPOILERS AHEAD)

Watching this film in a packed theatre with some of the most excited audience I’ve ever had the pleasure to sit with, was as much part of the experience as the film itself. The tension was clearly palpable: cheers,laughter, sniffling and sobs from the crowd seemed to accompany the soundtrack all at the appropriate moments, and yet it was in the most intimate and quiet scenes where you could feel how much the audience was with this film: you could have heard a pin dropped for how quiet everybody was!

For many fans (and let me get this out now: I am one of them), this is much more than just another film in the franchise: it’s the it’s the end of an era, or simply  the end of a journey which lasted for over 10 years (14 if you count the first book, back in 1997).

There are no precedents like this in movie history (the closest thing it can be compared with is the end of a long-running TV series like Friends, for example). There’s a certain poignancy that comes with it, because, as we all know, this is the last one EVER. There will not be any other Harry Potter, no matter what.

The film clearly knows all that and consciously plays to it, tapping into our deepest-self, reminding us about this journey we’ve taken and how we’ve grown up with it. But we are certainly not alone: these films themselves seem to have grown up too: this isn’t your normal dull blockbuster like Transformers, with idiotic one-liner, explosion-galore and music plastered all over (I was actually surprised to see how much restrained the music was on this film, but just carefully used only when it was really needed), this is more of an emotional roller-coaster. It might not be completely appropriate for your average kid (some of the images are pretty strong and after a while I lost the count of how many dead bodies of students I saw…), but if you’ve seen the previous ones, you should be prepared for this too (and if you haven’t, I must ask: what on earth are you doing here?!).

The previously-unknown David Yates has slowly been able to find his own voice with the latest 4 of the 8 instalments, by combining the sense of magic the first 2 films had, the darker tone introduced to us by Afonso Cuaron (with the third episode) but also that more grown-up approach to the story, which has been brewing and growing with each chapter (and book of course).

In fact Yates has also been one of the bravest too, as he has found the courage to actually hack to pieces the overly-written source and actually make a better film (clearly after book 3, no editor would dare to tell JK Rowling to cut anything out). In this last “Deathly Hallow”, he was able to basically stretch the final battle over the course of the whole film, making it seem greater and more epic than it’s ever been in the book (In the end, box office aside, it really did pay off to split the movie in two parts).

Considering the incredible amount of expectations which a film like this can carry and, consequently, the almost impossible task of bringing everything to a close, HP 7.2  does a really good job! Yes, of course there will be some disappointed people, but I think the disappointment will come from the fact that secretly each of us would like this story to go on forever and, no matter what, you can never please everyone.

There are flashbacks and cameos from pretty much every single member of the cast from the previous instalments (I think only Kenneth Branagh was missing), some of whom are unfortunately relegated to just a couple of shots and a single line (there are time where you just wish they had a whole spin-off movie about Snape, as Alan Rickman deserves a lot more screen time). Maggie Smith however manages to make the most of her little screen time and makes up for the fact that she wasn’t around in previous “deathly hallow”. She most definitely steals the show with her “I’ve always wanted to do that spell” and with that smile that carried both pride and embarrassment at the same time, so cute that you just want to hug her and ask her to be your grandmother.

The film is a real feast for the eye. The special effects are the most detailed on any Harry Potter (fair enough it’s been 10 years since the first one!) and actually I have to confess the 3D conversion was probably one of the best one I’ve seen in a while and although it’s not quite the same as actually filming in 3D it makes me rather curious and hopeful for the forthcoming Star Wars saga.

Unfortunately nowadays we are so used to see big battles with thousands of CGI-rendered extras, that focussing on those alone would certainly lead to some disappointment. Once again the film knows this and decides to concentrate more on the emotional aspect of the story. Don’t get me wrong, the big action scenes are there (in fact, the whole film seems a big action scene!), but as a fan it’s the most emotional moments in the film that stick with you: the death of some of the characters, the overdue kiss, the flashback sequence with Snape and most crucially the moment where Harry is ready to go and die and says goodbye to his friends. I must confess that had be too. Credits to that trio of those not-so-kids-anymore (Radcliffe, Watson and Grint) who this time clearly show how much they have matured as actors.

Daniel Radcliffe is at his best here: he has a clear understanding of his character as his face shows not just the loss of innocence but also a deep maturity in the acceptance of his fate. Emma Watsons shines with a freshly newly acquired spontaneity: the moment where she kisses Ron is followed by a smile which feels so real that could almost be mistaken for an outtake. And obviously Rupert Grint who’s always been the best of them all and can now relax in his role of ice-breaker with his funny comments in the most tense situations.

As always, if there are faults in the film they are mainly to do with the original source itself and, in this particular case, with the overly long and convoluted plot. Still to this day I have some problems in telling you what a deathly hallow is what its purpose might be… and I am a fan who has actually read all the books and seen most of the films more than once!! I can only imagine what the average viewer will make of it). At some point I almost had no idea what was going on anymore as horcruxes, crowns, snakes and plot twists all got mixed up in my head. Did it matter? Not really… to a degree.

And yet, even though I knew that the stakes were high and I could follow the rough plot (well, I mean, it’s clear enough: good vs evil), I still couldn’t quite grasp exactly how could Voldemort be killed or how was Harry Potter able come back from the whited-out King’s Cross (In fact that was also the biggest let-down of the book as far as I am concerned: it would have made a lot more sense if Harry had died. What a brave and powerful ending that would have been).

On the whole the film is a success. It’s hard to see how it could have been better: it can be argued that some of that sense of magical wonder that some of the previous instalments had, was probably lost here, as it gave more space to its three main characters. The very final scene was unusually underwhelming for these types of films and is a clear example of that as it decided to concentrate more on the faces of our three main characters rather than letting itself go by showing us perhaps an aerial view of the Hogwarts Express leaving with a possible rousing them from John Williams. And yet, Spielberg did manage to do both things in ET, by giving us the unforgettable image of the spaceship leaving a rainbow-like trail but also finishing on a tight close up of Elliot’s face, thus creating on of the most emotional ending of any fantasy film ever!

But these are just small quibbles: either you go with the film or you don’t and I certainly did.

Considering what a massive commercial machine Warner Bros is we must be so thankful for the way the franchise has been handled (it makes me shiver to think that actually Spielberg wanted to shift it all to America… Thankfully somebody had the courage to tell him off for once). Producer David Heyman is obviously a man of heart, who cares for his fans and set out to make the best films he could ever make, playing on the strengths of its (let’s be honest) not-so-perfect source and in the end making it an even better product.

In the end this film must be judged with that same heart and not so much with the brain, taking in consideration the series as well as this ending.

And you know what? My heart can’t stop saying “I just loved the journey, thank you so much for it”.

8/10

 Read my review of Part one

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