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My 12 for ’14: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution…

With 2014 coming to a close, we’re counting down our top twelve films of the year. Check back daily for the latest featured film.

The world has always seemed like it was on the cusp of something – like there was a powder keg ready to errupt. The infamous “doomsday clock” has never been further than seventeen minutes from midnight, and – outside of that brief moment of post-Cold War euphoria – mankind has always been living within a quarter-of-an-hour from the end of existence as we know it. Nuclear weapons. Global warming. Biological warfare. Economic collapse. All possible world-enders.

The new millennium has been dominated by the threats of terrorism and of global warming, unconventional opponents that can difficult to engage. However, 2014 brought its own particular brand of uncertainties and discomforts. In February, a revolution in the Ukraine sparked a political crisis in Europe, pushing Russia to loggerheads with Europe and the United States. Since August, Ferguson has been simmering away, the imagery of the protests burnt into the collective unconscious. The Syrian Civil War has faded from the front pages.

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The word “revolution” seemed to simmer away in the background, with certain young activists actively travelling to Ferguson in search of their own revolution. Writing in Time magazine, Darlena Cunha compared the trouble in Ferguson to the civil unrest which gave rise to the American Revolution. Demonstrating no shortage of self-importance, actor and comedian Russell Brand published his own manifesto – helpfully titled Revolution – in whish he pledged to lead a global revolution.

“The revolution can not be boring,” Brand advised readers. They seldom are. Revolutions are typically bloody, brutal, violent, horrific. There is a reason that wars of independence tend to be followed by civil wars and internal strife. Although the idea of revolution holds a romantic allure, history demonstrates that revolutions seldom help those most in need of assistance. “Meet the new boss,” the Who teased on Won’t Get Fooled Again, “same as the old boss.” Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a harrowing and compelling exploration of revolutionary bloodshed.

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Non-Review Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Constructing a satisfying sequel is an artform unto itself. It is something that requires a great deal of skill. As with any aspect of filmmaking, building off an earlier film is a very difficult thing to do. Producing a sequel comes with its own set of artistic risks and challenges, its own obstacles and hurdles. Navigating those potential problems and finding a way to meet (and even surpass) expectations without straying too far from the framework of the original film is difficult.

As with making any movie, there are existing frameworks and structures that do a little help make navigating those problems a little easier. Perhaps the structure of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is the most obvious example. Using the trust established by the first film, the ensemble are split up to carry different strands of the plot, revealing scattered pieces of a larger whole, before reuniting for an epic finalé. Bryan Singer used this approach for X-Men II and How to Train Your Dragon 2 also followed it.

Playing him for a chimp, eh?

Playing him for a chimp, eh?

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is in an interesting position. It is a sequel to a remake; a remake of a film franchise that was originally iconic and influential, before dying a slow and humiliating public death as the series diminished and collapsed. Not only does Dawn of the Planet of the Apes come with the expectations of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, it comes with the revived expectations of the entire Planet of the Apes franchise; expectations restored by Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes chooses a very clever structure for this sequel, loosely following the sequel framework typified by Christopher Nolan’s work on The Dark Knight. This is a very clever approach, and it pays dividends. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an ambitious and exciting sequel, a wonderful post-apocalyptic epic and an engaging moral parable.

Going ape for it...

Going ape for it…

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Non-Review Review: Congo

The problem with Congo is simply that it’s not entirely certain whether it wants to be taken seriously (even a little bit) or simply wants to veer off into a camp B-movie-style “killer apes” flick. Unfortunately, it never rally picks a definitive approach, and fluctuates between the two – making it difficult to take seriously during its action scenes and yet hard to accept the camp humour when it’s offered. It’s not a terrible film, but it’s a hevily-flawed one. I can’t help but get the impression that the movie might have been better accepted had it gone for a more fitting title like “Attack of the Killer Apes of King Solomon’s Mines!”

Not everything is better with monkeys...

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