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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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Watch! New Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Trailer!

Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a surprise cinematic treat in 2011, the second reboot of a franchise that had gone quite some time without a palpable hit. The movie was rare joy, rather cleverly anchoring its high-concept science-fiction premise in an engaging tale of a family divided, featuring a fantastic central performance from Andy Serkis as the somewhat forebodingly named “Caesar.”

It’ll be interesting to see if Dawn of the Planet of the Apes can match that quality, but the trailer looks like it hits the right notes – the word “family” gets repeated quite a bit, suggesting that the larger scale doesn’t mean we’ll drift too far from the themes of the original. While James Franco doesn’t look to be returning outside a small cameo on digital camcorder (although let’s not rule things out), the cast looks pretty solid. It’s a nice (nominal) lead role for Jason Clarke, and it’s always good to see Gary Oldman being unhinged.

Anyway, check out the trailer below.

Non-Review Review: Wild Bill

Wild Bill is the charming directorial debut from veteran character actor Dexter Fletcher. The established actor, who has worked on projects as diverse as Band of Brothers, Press Gang and The Three Musketeers, also wrote the screenplay for this slightly quirky British domestic drama, which sees an absentee father fostering an emotional connection with his abandoned kids. It’s a fairly conventional plot, and Fletcher doesn’t cram too many surprises in there, but the movie is wry enough and has a thinly-cynical exterior that makes the pill easy enough to follow. It’s not  quite a masterpiece, but it’s engaging and diverting enough to leave a pleasant impression.

Wild at heart...

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Non-Review Review: Paul

Paul is a charming little film. It’s not the most consistently hilarious comedy of the year, and it occasionally gets a little bit too hung up on a particular joke, but it does have a few chuckles and an affable quality that allows it go down easy. There’s a genuine sense of affection in the film, following two British nerds and the eponymous alien escapee on a road trip across America, but there’s also enough of a bite the film never wallows too much in sentimentality. It’s hard to find a single quality that Paul excels in, but it has a broad enough mesh of qualities that it makes for a pleasant enough viewing experience.

Ap-paul-ling behaviour...

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My Best of 2011: Rise of the Planet of the Apes & Hailing Caesar…

It’s that time of the year. To celebrate 2011, and the countdown to 2012, I’m going to count down my own twelve favourite films of the year, one a day until New Year’s Eve. I’m also going to talk a bit about how or why I chose them, and perhaps what makes this list “my” best of 2011, rather than any list claiming to be objective.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is number seven. Check out my original review here.

If you had told me last year that one of the best summer blockbusters would be a prequel to The Planet of the Apes, I would have laughed at you. Hell, I’m still chuckling a bit now, trying to get over how such a strange concept on paper managed to work so well. After all, a movie about a bunch of damn dirty CGI apes taking their share of the planet from us humans, led by a chimpanzee on Alzheimer’s medication, sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. And yet, for some reason, it works incredibly well. I’ll concede that the plot is a bit ropey, and the human characters are quite underdeveloped, but I think Rise of the Planet of the Apes managed to grab its audience so well purely because it creates a fascinating and compelling three-dimensional lead character who we completely understand to and relate to.

Did I mention that the lead character is a CGI ape?

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Same Movie, Different Audience & The Variables of the Movie-Going Experience…

I saw Rise of the Planet of the Apes again. I was with a relative who hadn’t seen it, and I thought I’d tag along. Part of it was to determine whether the fact that I so thoroughly enjoyed the film had been a fluke, perhaps due to relatively low levels of anticipation going in, but also because it was a good movie, and one I thought might be worth watching again. Truth be told, I enjoyed the film as much the second time, perhaps even more. However, something occurred to me while I was watching it – the audience I was with reacted quite differently to one or two key moments, which (to be honest) also impacted how I looked at those scenes. I don’t think it radically altered my opinion of the film, but I found it interesting to note how watching the film with a different group of people could lead to a slightly distinct viewing experience.

Paws for thought?

Note: This article, by its nature, will include spoilers for two key moments in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I suspect, if you’ve seen the film, you know which ones I am talking about. If you haven’t seen the film, I recommend you do before reading the article.

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