Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) – Film Review

Many years after the original: ‘Planet of the Apes’ franchise ended, the series was rebooted in its entirety with a new ‘Planet of the Apes’ trilogy, with these films almost serving as prequels to the original films despite being set within their own timeline. ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ was the first of this new series, and surprised many people upon its initial release in 2011.

Plot Summary: When a substance designed to help the brain repair itself and cure Alzheimers gives advanced intelligence to a chimpanzee named: ‘Caesar,’ he soon begins to enhance other apes in order to lead an ape uprising through the city of San Francisco…

Although I was never an enormous fan of the original: ‘Planet of the Apes’ film from 1968 as I was always overly-familiar with the sci-fi classic purely through its iconic plot twist near the end of its narrative, I personally feel that director Rupert Wyatt (The Escapist, The Gambler, Captive State) did a pretty great job revamping the science fiction series. As despite the film having plenty of sci-fi elements throughout its story, the film is mostly grounded in reality, focusing more on being a tense thriller with small elements of science fiction scattered throughout.

Andy Serkis takes on the difficult role of portraying the completely CG protagonist: ‘Caesar,’ and does a superb job of it. As he manages to capture the movements and mannerisms of an ape perfectly through motion-capture (which is even more impressive when considering that the film was one of the earliest to use a motion-capture set-up on location) all whilst ensuring the audience sympathises with ‘Caesar.’ In addition to Andy Serkis, the rest of the cast of James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, and Brian Cox are all decent in their roles, despite the film having the occasional cliché line of dialogue for most characters.

The cinematography by Andrew Lesnie is visually pleasing for the most part, having a variety of attractive shots as well as having plenty of movement especially when following the apes sprinting or climbing. The way many of the shots are also framed further feeds into the theme of man controlling nature (which is present throughout the film). Many of the scenes set within the ape sanctuary also link back to this theme, including my personal favourite scene of the film: ‘Caesar Speaks,’ which is executed perfectly.

Despite the later films in the trilogy being composed by the fantastic Michael Giacchino, the original score by Patrick Doyle is decent throughout the film. As while it definitely doesn’t have a variety of memorable tracks, the soundtrack does back-up many of the action scenes and more emotional moments quite well. I also felt the sound design throughout the film helped add to the film’s realism, mostly through the enormous amount of ape roars, squeals and grunts whenever the animals interacted with humans or each other.

The CG effects throughout the film still hold-up surprisingly well, as although the visual effects have definitely aged since the film’s release in 2011, and the CG visuals are for sure the weakest when it comes to the entire trilogy. The visuals effects are still heavily detailed and feel very real when placed into their locations, which is lucky as if not, I do feel the weak CG effects could’ve possibly derailed some of the excellent performances from the cast. Aside from the flaws already mentioned with the visual effects, however, the action scenes throughout the film are handled pretty well, as many would probably know this film mostly for its huge action set-piece on San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge.

In summary, ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ may not be the best film within the new trilogy, but it definitely is a very strong start. As although the visual effects may be lacking at points, the great cinematography, decent original score, and brilliant motion-capture all backing-up Andy Serkis’ outstanding performance, all leads this initial entry to have plenty of entertainment value throughout its runtime, and I’d be very surprised if this first film doesn’t make many viewers want to continue on with this sci-fi series. Final Rating: 8/10.

rise_of_the_planet_of_the_apes-p595307

Source Code (2011) – Film Review

Talented science fiction director Duncan Jones (Moon, Warcraft, Mute) brings us an original, engaging and fast-paced sci-fi thriller with: ‘Source Code.’ Combing futuristic technology, drama, and some short action scenes. All equalling to a pretty enjoyable experience, which I personally believe still holds-up today, aside from a few small issues here and there.

Plot Summary: When a soldier (Colter Stevens) awakens in someone else’s body, he soon discovers he’s part of an experimental government program. Created in order to find the bomber of the commuter train he is aboard. A mission he has only eight-minutes to complete…

Despite this time limit however, the film always manages to deliver its story very effectively, as this sci-fi flick builds-up a decent layer of mystery and tension as to who is responsible for the bombing throughout. Giving the film an almost mystery-type structure alongside its science fiction elements, using the story’s original ideas to their best extent as we follow our protagonist: ‘Colter Stevens’ as he searches for his target over the course of the film, encountering many different characters on-board the train along the way.

The supporting cast of Vera Farmiga, Michelle Monaghan and Jeffrey Wright all do a pretty great job throughout the film. However, Jake Gyllenhaal as ‘Colter Stevens’ is obviously the stand-out, proving that he can hold his own as a leading hero, regardless of whichever genre he finds himself in. Unfortunately however, the characters within the film definitely lack development, as aside from a few short scenes, the film never really seems interested in exploring it’s characters any further it needs to. Yet, with the film’s tight runtime, I definitely feel this was a missed opportunity.

The cinematography by Don Burgess is decent for the most part, never really experimenting with anything incredibly creative, but staying at a fairly decent level for the majority of the film. The original score by Chris Bacon is without a doubt the worst element of the film however, as I simply feel the score doesn’t suite this genre of film at all. Feeling more like a soundtrack from a generic action blockbuster, rather than a slick sci-fi such as this one. In addition to this, I feel the train set (where a large majority of the film takes place) could do with some improvement. As although this is only a small criticism, and won’t bother most, I personally found the set to look and feel a little too much like a set at points, with the green-screen view from the windows not helping towards this. But with most of the film being shot on a soundstage in Montréal, Canada, I suppose the film we received is the best result.

The film does manage to blend many of it’s more outlandish sci-fi aspects with the more grounded science fiction elements very well however. Cutting between the past and the present at various points throughout the film, always utilising the lighting as well as the different sets very effectively as a great visual indicator for the audience. I was also very surprised on my initial viewing to find that the film contains quite a few comedic moments throughout, as ‘Colter’ experiences the strange reality he now finds himself in through some of his funny interactions with the various people on-board the train. However, this did lead me to wonder if the film could’ve been improved should the story have fully embraced a more absurd tone, perhaps this then would’ve made the film extremely unbelievable, but I personally feel this way the film could’ve explored some of its interesting ideas further.

To conclude, ‘Source Code’ is an enjoyable ride, as while I personally find the film much more interesting for its story and ideas, as the cinematography and original score throughout the film can sometimes be a little bland and uninspired (in addition to the film’s lack of characterisation). Regardless, I still find the majority of the filmmaking pretty decent, and it results in a mostly entertaining sci-fi thriller, and a pretty easy watch on a Saturday night. Final Rating: 7/10.

Source Code Poster

Attack the Block (2011) – Film Review

From producer Edgar Wright and director Joe Cornish (The Kid Who Would Be King) comes a violent, thrilling and exciting sci-fi spectacle. Despite a smaller budget, the film manages to create an incredibly entertaining film with a variety of brilliant effects. All equalling to a super enjoyable British thrill-ride.

Plot Summary: After an unlucky women is mugged by a tough teenage gang in South London, they reluctantly agree to work together to defend their block of flats when an invasion of savage alien creatures fall from the sky in large meteorites…

After I first heard about this film’s plot, it’s fair to say I went into my initial viewing with intrigued yet cautious, as I genuinely didn’t know what to expect. After watching, I was very surprised that the film was more than just a simple science fiction thriller, as the film is not only very tense during some scenes, but also funny, and even somewhat thought-provoking at points. Having themes of racism, crime and abandonment. Most of the action in the film is also very well-executed, not being overly edited, or shot with too much hand-held camera (unlike many action films or thrillers today). The film also manages to keep a really fast pace throughout, only ever having small breaks in between action scenes to develop the characters and give the audience a quick breather.

The main gang of teenagers are portrayed by John Boyega, Alex Esmail, Franz Drameh, Leeon Jones and Simon Howard. Who I think all do a great job acting like a rebellious group of London teens, having many comedic moments playing London ‘chavs,’ without taking their portrayals a little too far. Jodie Whittaker also appears in the film as a young woman who gets mugged by the group, and while she is less interesting as a character, I still felt she really helped to give the audience more of a perspective throughout the story. Even Nick Frost gets a small appearance as ‘Ron,’ a drug supplier who has many hilarious moments.

On a rewatch, I also noticed the cinematography by Thomas Townend is surprisingly well-done, while I wasn’t expecting to be terrible by any means. It isn’t nearly as bland as I remembered it being, utilising many different shots in both the action and non-action scenes. The cinematography also benefits many of the various effects in the film, both practical and CG. The film’s effects still hold-up today and work very well within the narrative, even many of the gore effects for various character’s death scenes are still impressive, and remain shocking to me even now.

The original score by Steven Price is another element of the film I really enjoy, combining a decent sci-fi soundtrack alongside an almost hip-hop like beat works really well with the idea of the inner London city clashing with outer-space. I personally believe this to be one of his most underrated scores right to next his original scores for both ‘Fury’ and ‘Gravity.’

Personally, I think the only really weak element of the film aside from a few slightly cheesy scenes here and there, is the film’s sound design. As although I really like the various noises of the alien creatures themselves (as I believe it goes along with their amazing designs extremely well) there are a variety of other sounds I simply don’t feel fit with their placement in the film. Whether that’s because they feel out-of-place or simply come across as a little cringey at points.

To conclude, ‘Attack the Block’ is simply awesome, it remains a very exciting film from start-to-finish. Knowing exactly what it is whilst not afraid to push itself ever so slightly further to elevate above other films within its genre. While I don’t think the film is perfect by any means, and I don’t believe the sound design could be improved. ‘Attack the Block’ is still a solid sci-fi thriller, and definitely one to watch if you’re interested. Final Rating: high 8/10.

attack_the_block_xlg

The Cabin in the Woods (2011) – Film Review

A personal favourite horror classic of mine, Drew Goddard (Bad Times at the El Royale) directs his first feature film with this creepy yet hilarious original story. The plot alone is enough to watch this film, as without spoiling anything, it near enough becomes impossible to predict where this film is going. The more the film unravels, the more interested you become, and by twenty minutes in I found myself incredibly entertained.

Plot Summary: A group of teenage friends all fitting the stereotypes of typical slasher victims, head-up to an old cabin deep in the woods for a weekend of partying. Yet things soon turn-out to not be what they seem, as it appears someone, or something, is manipulating events…

The film overall is basically a dissection of horror films and the clichés that come with them, whilst also being a horror film at the same-time. However, although the film does build-up a decent atmosphere throughout, the horror aspect of the film is easily its weakest element. As I always found myself laughing far more at its comedic scenes, rather than finding myself on-edge over during the tension-filled ones.

Being a typical horror story like this however, always comes the risk of using young unknown actors for the teens, with the exception of maybe Chris Hemsworth of course (who was mostly unknown at this point). Yet I think the entire cast did a phenomenal job, especially Fran Kranz as ‘Marty,’ who got many laughs out of me and completely nailed the ‘Stoner’ type attitude, mostly as a result of the extensive prop and behaviour training he went through before filming in order to further fit his character. Richard Jenkins from ‘Step Brothers’ and ‘The Shape of Water’ is also great within the film as ‘Sitterson,’ as for his role in the story, I’ll leave that a mystery for now…

Many of the visuals in the film come off as your usual standard horror flick, alongside the cinematography by Peter Deming, which of course is nothing special. But there is the occasional pleasing shot, or even a throwback shot to classic horror film every so often, with ‘Friday the 13th’ being the most noticeable. However, the actual design of the cabin set itself, as well as many of the creatures throughout the film, is easily one of my favourite elements. As the costumes are nothing short of incredibly detailed, and really help give each creature it’s own distinct look and feel.

The original score by David Julyan is your standard horror film soundtrack, further playing into the idea of a dissection of the genre, and despite being very bland it does back-up many of the eerie scenes regardless. The editing is also nothing phenomenal, but with a narrative this original and the writing being as hilarious as it is. I’m willing to give them a thumbs-up. Especially when you consider the last twenty minutes of the film, which is probably some of the most fun I’ve had watching a horror flick.

Another weaker aspect of the film is also related to the visuals, as the film was made on a smaller budget, the CG effects in many scenes is quite noticeable, and although it doesn’t completely ruin a scene, it can take you out of the film for a second or two. Thankfully, CGI isn’t used very heavily throughout the film. I also feel this smaller-budget might have had an impact of the runtime, as the film feels a little short to me and could’ve done with being slightly longer to further flush elements out.

In conclusion, I adore ‘The Cabin in the Woods,’ from the wonderfully crafted creatures to the way the story unfolds, to the various nods to previous entries in the horror genre. I think Goddard has made a flawless dissection of why we love horror films and the traits within them. Although not prefect, I’m still eagerly anticipating his next film and I really hope he keeps this trend of interesting filmmaking going. Final Rating: 8/10.

cabin_in_the_woods_ver4_xxlg