Monday, 29 August 2011

REVIEW: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Coming in with little expectations, the latest of the Planet of the Apes series was a dramatic tonal shift from the campness of the original series (and awfulness of Burton's) to give a refreshing film that deserves more credit.

Whenever I think back to the original Planet of the Apes series, I remember confusing images of Charlton Heston hamming it up, of a weird bestiality romance, but mostly of discrimination and intolerance. This is what this film concentrates and does away with all the unnecessary sci-fi silliness of it all. This is, essentially, a film that mirrors today's society in more ways than one.

The story behind this is that, in an effort to find a cure-all medicine, James Franco's experiments on chimps results in the birth of Caesar, an ape already born in captivity. Franco takes the baby into his home and Caesar is maturing at an astonishing rate. After an unfortunate incident, Caesar is locked up with his own kind and is astonished at the way he is treated. His plan to escape slowly unfolds and he leads the apes with an all out savage attack at the end of the film.

There will be certain current events that will be mirrored here. America's treatment of it's prisoners of Iraq, the animal testing, and you could even say it mirrors the treatment of the Jews in Nazi Germany. As we grow with Caesar we are just as afraid of his primal behaviour as he is, clearly he's going through a huge identity crisis 'What is Caesar?' he asks, his existential crisis becoming the main fuel for the events. Once we see him in clothes, with his human characteristics but with a chain round his neck, with his sloppy food and the prison drama that takes up the middle section of the film, we can't help but feel sorry for him. The battle for his humanity, to help his fellow creature, replaces the initial battle that Franco has to save his father. However, this is essentially what the film is about, a film about fathers, a coming-of-age rebellion against your father and the world that's about finding your own place in the world.

Caesar is, for what is mostly a silent part, an incredibly complex character that keeps the whole film together. Fortunately, not much effort is put into the Franco/Pinto love interest, instead it's enough to give Caesar the feeling of having a mother that's not his mother, an object of his father's affection that he can't hope to attain. His episode back in captivity is horrifying, he knows he must fight to be at the top of the hierarchy and feels spurned by the humans. The only thing is that, his feeling of hatred towards the humans might seem somewhat just, but his feelings on what he did to get in there in the first place are never brought into question. The poor neighbour of Franco however does seem to get some bad luck! There was also a lot of future plotlines being set up - a disease, the mission to Mars, the scarred 'evil' ape - that I thought was a bit of a cheap shot into getting another film greenlit (if it hadn't been already) and people might moan that, in theory, nothing really happens. What was the affect of the ape onslaught? Just to free apes? What's their overall plan at this stage? Does it matter? Why is the orang-utan so smart? If he has the 12 series medication, when he breathed in the 13 series did that change Caesar even more? So there's a few things, but nothing overly detrimental to the film.

What has to be said is that the CG is absolutely terrific. Compare the apes to the motion capture of say Lord of the Rings and you can see it has clearly come a long way. The way the Apes move, look and especially Caesar's part - played absolutely brilliantly - is a new turning point in live-action animation. Caesar's acting was integral to the film and is authentic, astonishing and mesmerising. Not only this but John Lithgow and James Franco really do pull you through. I just wish the ending had a bit more of an impact.

Don't go in thinking this is all action because it isn't, I'd argue it's a character piece and I don't say this often, but I think it could have done with an extra half hour added onto it. I wanted some parts to be more fleshed out, but the running pace certainly keeps you excited. The action, when it does happen, is brilliantly executed. Rupert Wyatt's first step into big budget Hollywood is a bold one, and one that pays off. This doesn't have to be a cinema film, but it's certainly a thinking man's Planet of the Apes. It just makes you wonder how Burton could have got it all wrong ten years ago.

Highly entertaining, and a real hidden gem in an Inbetweener's summer

Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

REVIEW: The X Files (Entire Series)

Warning: X-Files is bad for your mental and physical health. 

I'm sure, like the rest of the world, everyone was aware of The X Files; a Twilight Zone, B-Movie, Monster-of-the-Week series that got people talking and was full of creative, horrifying and often scary ideas. However, even though more and more people got pulled in season after season, fans became irritated and soon lost interest leaving it to be cancelled after 9 successive years.

As a result, and due to my initial love for The X Files, I decided to go back and start from the very beginning and what a journey it was. Keep in mind, every season has about 24/25 episodes which last 45 mins, sometimes longer and that I've been watching it every spare minute since February until last week. If you've been wondering why there hasn't been many movie reviews, or many of anything on this site, it's because X Files has taken up all my time. I've almost killed myself doing it, constantly watching episode after episode until finally after what seems like a lifetime, it comes to an end. Well, apart from the subsequent films. So let me tell you what I thought.

If you speak to Joe Bloggs about X Files, more often than not he'll tell you that he liked the early seasons and then it all went a bit weird. This, to summarise, is pretty much what happened. When X Files had stand-alone weekly episodes, they worked best - obviously like any show, overarching narratives are what keep people hooked continuously, but it was these storylines, the big 'epic' conspiracies etc. that really killed it. It became the victim of it's own self-belief in a world where EVERYTHING is real. There's no doubting anything and the annoying thing is, after seeing so much, going through everything, Scully still refuses to accept some pretty obvious truths. New characters often glide in with cynicism, but this mix of 'real-world' and X Files world contradicts itself constantly and becomes rather infuriating. Not only this but the sagging middle seasons have very, very few episodes which are alright at best. They take the piss out of themselves way too much as well with parodies, self-aware jokes and nonsensical situations like being the stars of a Hollywood movie, going inside a computer game and more to add insult to injury. By the end of it all, you realise that the whole thing is a bloody joke and completely ridiculous. It's either serious or it isn't, the tonal mix is, at times, a welcome relief but soon wears thin.

However, there are some good points. Duchovny goes from enjoying the role of Mulder to mocking it to hating it and then just leaving, only to continue coming back in what you can clearly see is for just the money. Gillian Anderson however holds the whole thing together - in the face of sheer absurdity she brings a gravitas to it that only a real actress can accomplish. Everyone around her knows it's dumb, that X Files had it's day a long time ago, but still she gives every scene her all and doesn't think anything is beneath her.

In spite of this, there's so much I hated about X Files that it's hard to list. The dialogue is terrible, the storyline is ridiculous and full of holes, the acting can be abysmal and annoyingly, they even use past actors again as different roles. What X Files does best is come up with imaginative stories that are completely out-of-the-box, and when it does it right, it really comes through. It's a shame that looking back at 9 years worth of material, that the lows are so low and the highs so high, it's completely unpredictable.

The main surprise and real highlight for me was Robert Patrick as Agent Doggett. Once he enters he brings a real breath of fresh air to the series and is a brilliant counter-point to Scully, the too few episodes where it is just them two are some of my favourite epsiodes of the entire lot. His straight-talking Jersey boy attitude and downright manliness give the show a macho image that it was crucially lacking. A lot of the time Mulder moans, whines, and is annoyingly constantly correct, so that when he reappears with Doggett on the scene, you can't help but root for Patrick when you really feel the writers want you to side with Mulder. It's very well done and it's a shame that it could never take off properly with Robert Patrick being the main character. Part of this was because they tried to team him up with Monica Seles or whatever her name is, some 'pyschic' FBI agent that lacks both depth, charisma and talent - her crutch in life? Cigarettes. Jesus she's bland.

It's a real shame that X Files didn't continue but with a story so out-of-hand, characters bordering on the ridiculous, acting with a lot left to be desired and it's obsession with moving away from simple, one-off stories to big government conspiracies just confused the hell out of me. It's a perfect example of taking something simple and convoluting it to the point where it's no longer identifiable. The last episode, a final attempt to sum up what the hell had been happening was unfortunately too little too late, it had been surfing on it's initial success for too long and this episode shows how stupid the whole thing had become. I highly recommend The X Files, but instead of watching the whole thing, I'd talk to someone like myself and only watch particular episodes. It's not quantity, it's quality. I just wish someone could have told Chris Carter.

Also, why the hell he decided to do a spin-off on the most irritating people on The X Files, The Lone Gunmen, is beyond me.

Some terrible mistakes were made and the show paid the price. When it worked, it really worked. But in reality it was a broken monstrosity that wouldn't look out of place within it's own realm.

Someone give Robert Patrick a job please.

Rating: 6/10