Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

 

The early Planet of the Apes movies had a cheesy look about them. Because the apes looked like guys with bad masks or prosthetics, it was hard to buy into the stories.

This is not the case in 2014. The apes in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes look like real apes. This makes the story easier to appreciate and enjoy. The entire team led by director Matt Reeves is to be congratulated for turning out a movie that has a great look.

In the future world depicted in DOTPOTA, following disease that has wiped out most of the human population, the apes have it together. Their ability to communicate is highly developed. Their community structure allows them to enjoy a relatively civil society. And they can still swing through trees!

Shortly after one ape wonders about the fate of humans, a small group of humans shows up in the apes’ domain, just north of a devastated San Francisco. The humans, led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Ellie (Keri Russell), want to repair a hydroelectric dam to provide juice to SF. (The settings, including the sad future vision of the city by the bay, also look great.)

Initially, the two sides co-exist. But factions cause discord within each group and, ultimately, distrust between humans and apes diminishes.

Ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) has a beef with ape Koba (Toby Kebbell) who tries to kill Caesar. And a leader of the surviving humans, Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) has disagreements with other humans. These internal problems provoke some elements of the faceoff between the two main groups.

Whether you view the apes-versus-humans conflict as a metaphor for racial or religious differences in current society or as just a cool sci-fi future vision, you will be impressed. First, by the best depiction yet of the highly evolved apes of the future. And, second, by the overall look of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

Why can’t we all just get along? Because our differences overwhelm what we have in common. As in real life, so things are and ever will be on the planet of the apes.

 

 

Robocop

The 1987 Robocop is not quite a classic, but it’s a movie I love for many reasons: its story, its gritty violence, its depiction of corporate greed and, especially, its sense of humor. The new Robocop (set in 2028) provides appropriate updates to certain elements of the original but doesn’t have the same impact as the 27-years-ago version.

Despite Robocop 2014’s high level of violence, it gets a PG-13. The ’87 Robocop was an R, thanks to language and a bit of skin (along with the violence).

Three things I really liked about the new Robocop: (1) Gary Oldman’s performance as Norton, a robotics engineer who wavers between his commitment to making a marketable product and his commitment to doing what’s right. (2) Samuel L. Jackson’s right wing TV show, which provides bookends for the movie. (3) The challenge Robocop faces versus a variety of robots, a glorious sequence resembling a rapid-fire first-person-shooter video game.

Samuel L. Jackson as a Fox News Channel personality? Pat Novak (Jackson) is a conservative TV host who is an advocate for security robots made by Omnicorp. He accuses Americans of having “robophobia.” In the movie’s opening, we see a live TV shot from Teheran where these machines protect US forces and a lady TV reporter. (Interesting prediction: that we’ll have ground forces in Iran in 14 years.)

As in the original, Robocop is Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), an injured Detroit cop who is made into a robotic, computer-aided crime fighter. Kinnaman lacks the gravitas that Peter Weller brought to the first Robocop. He’s 34 years old, but has a baby face.

The bad guy in this film (other than the dirty cops who are abetting a weapons dealer) is Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), head of Omnicorp. He’s in a political battle, opposing a federal law against robotic crime-fighters. Robocop is seen as the compromise because he is a human (with feelings), who also has the skills of a robot. Keaton brings an evil sneer to this character, a darker role for him. Other notable cast members include Jackie Earle Haley, Jennifer Ehle, Abie Cornish and Jay Baruchel.

The 2014 Robocop is not groundbreaking. But if you’re looking for a decent action film that predicts a high tech future, showcases plenty of violent gunplay and has a sense of humor, Robocop satisfies.

 

 

The Dark Knight Rises

This is one of the all-time great films. The story, the screenplay, the soundtrack, the acting, the directing, the stunts, the effects—all winners!

It’s the story and its telling that give TDKR a specialness that the other Christopher Nolan Bat movies didn’t have. The others had bombast and standout performances, but TDKR has more heart and soul. Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman is heroic, to be sure, but is presented here as more human and more vulnerable (in numerous ways). His transition from a limping, Howard Hughes type recluse back to Bat mode sets the film in motion.

Nolan and Nolan (director and co-writer Christopher and his co-writer brother Jonathan) give memorable lines to several of the key players. Michael Caine as Alfred is in tears as he advises Wayne not to go back into the Bat suit. Joseph Gordon-Levitt as police officer John Blake, a longtime Wayne admirer, tells Wayne his emotional story of life in an orphanage. Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon hesitates to tell the truth about Batman, lest he mar the legacy of Harvey Dent.

The ladies are better in this Bat movie. Anne Hathaway as Selina Kay/Catwoman is a beguiling mix of evil and good. Plus, she looks terrific in the leather jumpsuit. Marion Cotillard as Wayne Enterprises board member Miranda Tate shares a romantic interlude with Bruce Wayne and is a key character in significant plot points.

Tom Hardy is evil incarnate as Bane, the terrorist who brings fear and havoc to Gotham. His mask and haunting voice bring to mind classic bad guy Darth Vader. Bane’s violent acts will prompt recollections of NYC’s 9/11 terrorist attacks. His band of thugs commandeers certain defense assets to do harm to Gotham and its defenders.

If this is a movie you plan to see, get into your movie house sooner rather than later. TDKR has content you want to enjoy on the big screen (IMAX, preferably) instead of a small screen. This review contains no spoilers, but others will. Be careful monitoring online forums and social media feeds, so as not to be burned by those who tell too much.

“The Dark Knight Rises” has iconic scenes and dialogue that will endure in my personal movie memory scrapbook for a long time. Expect multiple awards nominations and wins at year’s end. The movie adds another notch to Christopher Nolan’s reputation as one of our great movie storytellers. Like his “Inception,” TDKR is a movie to be enjoyed many times over. But don’t wait for the DVD or Blu-Ray. Witness true greatness at a theater near you ASAP.