Talking Movies

December 3, 2019

From the Archives: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

The Western Revival may well be killed off by Brad Pitt’s boring art-house epic. Seriously, after Seraphim Falls and 3:10 to Yuma things were looking good for the genre but as Alexander was to sword and sandals flicks so is The Assassination to Westerns. Andrew Dominik’s second film (following acclaimed Australian crime biopic Chopper) was flagged as a Terrence Malick style western. We were cautioned not to expect shoot ’em up action but instead lovingly photographed landscape and dreamlike narrative, characters musing philosophically with copious voiceover. All of which we get. There are some wonderful Malickesque moments, such as a dreamily off-centre train robbery which is all reflected lights through trees and fog, the problem is there’s no substance behind them.

Towards the end of Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 Hunter S Thompson described the phenomenon of ‘Campaign Bloat’, when the press corps suddenly realised that the American Presidential Campaign had changed the minds of a negligible number of voters, therefore the last of year of their lives had been pointless. After 158 minutes audiences will feel the same about Jesse James. It trashes the film in retrospect to realise that, having followed the Ford brothers and the rest of the James gang through a long, bloody winter as Jesse becomes increasingly paranoid that one of them is going to betray him, Dominik had absolutely no point to make. This sense of drift afflicts Brad Pitt’s performance as the depressed, lonely and physically ailing Jesse James. He repeats two exact mannerisms which he did as Tyler Durden in Fight Club which emphasise the hollowness of his performance, which doesn’t come close to Chris Cooper’s turn in Breach as a man doing wrong who just wants someone to stop him, as it’s hinted is James’ motivation for conniving at his own killing.

Casey Affleck, so good in The Last Kiss, does a fine job of portraying the turn from naïve hero-worship to resentful hero-killing of Robert Ford but his role is badly underwritten despite his epic amount of screen time. That’s saying something given that the film could justifiably be re-titled The Adventures of the Ford Brothers and their Killing of Jesse James. Mary-Louise Parker and Zooey Deschanel, as the other halves of Jesse and Robert respectively, hardly appear and serve no purpose when they are onscreen. Sam Rockwell and Jeremy Renner are good in support as Ford’s brother and James’ cousin but the demythologising presentation of them as country rubes and inglorious violent criminals is defeated by the film’s attempts, after the ‘assassination’ finally takes place, to remythologise Jesse James as a noble outlaw. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s atmospheric soundtrack carries the film for a long time but in the end even they can’t save the meandering emptiness.

2/5

September 30, 2019

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XX

As the title suggests, so forth.

Whither Fassbender?

Things have not been going well for Michael Fassbender of late. 2015 was something of an annus mirabilis with the glorious offbeat Western Slow West, a cinematic and brutal Macbeth, and the Sorkin/Boyle dream-team walk-and-talk of Steve Jobs. And that coming on the heels of 2014’s feel-good time-travel blockbuster X-Men: Days of Future Past and eccentric musical comedy Frank. And then everything seemed to go sideways in 2016. X-Men: Apocalypse was an unmitigated disaster, gangster film Trespass Against Us and period drama The Light Between Oceans failed to find even an art-house audience, and video game romp Assassin’s Creed, which he also produced and was intended as the ‘one for them’ for Macbeth, backfired spectacularly. The came 2017. Song to Song only fuelled the flames of Malick fatigue where it was released, horror sequel Alien: Covenant infuriated everyone despite his entertainingly ridiculous turn as two androids, and Scandi-noir The Snowman was crippled from the start by production ending before it had, um, quite ended. Either of these years would be an annus horribilis. To have one after the other spectacularly bad luck. Almost of Jude Law 2004 proportions. Since then Fassbender has only made one film – X-Men: Dark Phoenix. Sigh. As of today Fassbender is filming a part in Kung Fury 2. A sequel to a 2015 short film. And this may well be merely a glorious cameo. There is nothing else confirmed for the man from Kerry. How can he turn this around?

August 10, 2019

Personalities: The IFI

The IFI is about to start serious refurbishments to fix the leaking roof and restore screens 1 and 2 to a level equal to the plush comfort of screen 3. I thought it would be meet to reflect on the personality of the IFI and its three very different screens.

Screen 1 is the biggest screen with 258 seats and I have seen some appropriately big movies on it: Apocalypse Now Redux, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Blade Runner Final Cut, and Vertigo 70mm. Vangelis’ glorious synthesiser score bouncing around that relatively small space made far more of an impact than seeing the same cut of the movie in the cavernous space of the ‘IMAX’ screen in Cineworld. But not all films in screen 1 are as totally packed as the four shows just named were. Paul Fennessy and I once had the wildly disconcerting experience of seeing Olivier Assayas’ Apres Mai in a private screening because nobody else showed up for the matinee, and we greatly enjoyed seeing Alex Ross Perry’s Listen Up Philip very unexpectedly on that big screen for the benefit of about a dozen punters.

Screen 2 is far smaller at 106 seats and I have sat thru many press screenings there, and witnessed the rush at Open Days for the good seats: those in the first of the two rows placed above the fray to the right at the very back which thus afford infinite legroom, or the seats in the front row which also afford infinite legroom. Legroom, as you may have divined, is an issue in this screen. It has also had a tendency to emulate the late lamented Screen and get overpoweringly hot when at full capacity. I vividly remember stumbling out of an Open Day screening of 8 ½ feeling dehydrated. But screen 2’s intimate nature has made for bizarre audience interactions; the previously described outraged Bruce Campbell fans at Bubba Ho-Tep and accidental heckler at The Tree of Life.

Screen 3 has but 61 seats, it is the Old Dramsoc of the IFI’s screen, and for the vast majority of the times I have been there it has been half-empty at best. Indeed for a spell there I was plagued with shows where audiences halved within the first hour as people walked out in disgust. My favourite non sequitir being the people who walked out after the long-take of two successive monologues in Queen of Earth; obviously disgusted at Alex Ross Perry’s virtuoso directing. There have been startling exceptions such as uncomfortably crowded shows of Mulholland Drive and The Disaster Artist. There was the unexpected occasion of not seeing Le Doulos at all because there was only one ticket left when we arrived expecting the usual relaxed atmosphere and found a frenzied queue. But usually it’s laidback as Jazz24.

Maybe Jazz24 is the key to how I regard the IFI; the only cinema where it seems right time after time to get a coffee to bring in to the film with me. Perhaps because I’ve seen so many French films there. It’s been suffering thru something of a malaise for the last two years, maybe sprucing the place up will be the key to regaining the half a yard in pace lost to the Lighthouse.

May 2, 2018

IFI Stories

Reading through Talking Movies’ back catalogue after 10 years (sic), and archiving the lost reviews that came before, has set me thinking about memorable cinema trips of the past. So here are two great memories of unexpected audience interventions in screen 2 of the IFI.


In late 2004 I went along with three friends to see Bubba Ho-Tep. Let’s call one of these friends Friedrich Bagel, because that’s who it was. Herr Bagel was, at best, a Bruce Campbell agnostic, and two of us laid on the Bruce hero worship perhaps a bit too thick just before we all walked into the cinema. This led to some unfortunate timing of snippy remarks on the part of Bagel the Bruce agnostic, because as we took our seats he exploded at us, “Just who is this Bruce Campbell character anyway? And how many fans does he have? Just you two?” As we touched down on our seats 4 guys in the row in front of us rocketed up out of their seats. They turned to face us, all wearing Evil Dead t-shirts. Ah… The tallest, looming over the Bruce-baiting Bagel, waved his arms around while booming – “How dare you sir! This is the Church of Bruce! You shall not blaspheme in the Church of Bruce!” Luckily the other guilty party in boosting Bruce beyond Bagel’s breaking point was just as tall and far bigger in build. He stood up and assured the Pastor of the Church of Bruce that our Bruce agnostic did not need to be killed for heresy, but was a potential convert, and needed only this film to push him into Bruce’s arms. Calm returned to the cinema, even if it was a slightly cowed calm on the part of Bagel who now realised Bruce Campbell did indeed have more than just two fans.

2011 found me at one of the last screenings of The Tree of Life in the IFI, in the afternoon with an audience of Malick devotees. Well, maybe they weren’t true devotees. Maybe like me they just really liked Badlands. I’d been trying to concentrate on just luxuriating in the visuals of the creation of the universe montage, rather than thinking too critically about it. The choral soundtrack got louder and louder, and I was thinking about how on earth Terrence Malick was achieving this (was he adding in extra singers for each verse?), when an exasperated older man a few seats down from me suddenly turned to say to his female companion – “Oh, this is just pretentious f****** nonsense! It really is…” Unfortunately life imitates art far more often than art imitates life, and, in a hilarious occurrence straight out of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy film, at that precise and most wonderful moment the soundtrack abruptly went mute. His bellowed whisper bounded around the entire cinema and was heard by everyone. You could feel the audience stiffen in their seats like an electric current had been passed thru all the rows. Some were offended by this philistinism, but many more I think were suddenly roused, out of somnolent acceptance of Malick’s montage as being High Art, back into consciousness and began a critical evaluation of what the man had just said. And do you know what, I swear that I felt most of the audience suddenly silently agree and think, “It is pretentious f****** nonsense, isn’t it?!”

I can’t think of Bubba Ho-Tep or The Tree of Life to this day without remembering the odd way I saw them in the IFI.

September 1, 2015

Six Years, what a surprise

Filed under: Talking Movies,Talking Nonsense,Talking Television,Talking Theatre — Fergal Casey @ 10:06 pm
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Previous milestones on this blog have been marked by features on Michael Fassbender and a vainglorious, if requested, list (plays to see before you die). But as today marks exactly six years since Talking Movies kicked off in earnest on Tuesday September 1st 2009 with a review of (500) Days of Summer I’ve rummaged thru the archives for some lists covering the various aspects of the blog’s expanded cultural brief.

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Top 6 Films

There’s been a lot of films given a write-up and a star rating hereabouts. So many films. Some fell in my estimation on re-watching, others steadily increased in my esteem, and many stayed exactly as they were.

 

Here are my favourites of the films I’ve reviewed over the past six years:

 

Inception

X-Men: First Class

Shame

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Skyfall

Mud

 

And that’s a selection from this list…

Iron Man, Indiana Jones 4, Wolverine, (500) Days of Summer, Creation, Pandorum, Love Happens, The Goods, Fantastic Mr Fox, Jennifer’s Body, The Men Who Stare at Goats, Bright Star, Glorious 39, The Box, Youth in Revolt, A Single Man, Whip It!, The Bad Lieutenant, Eclipse, Inception, The Runaways, The Hole 3-D, Buried, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Let Me In, The Way Back, Never Let Me Go, Cave of Forgotten Dreams 3-D, Win Win, X-Men: First Class, The Beaver, A Better Life, Project Nim, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Glee: The 3-D Concert Movie, The Art of Getting By, Troll Hunter, Drive, Demons Never Die, The Ides of March, In Time, Justice, Breaking Dawn: Part I, The Big Year, Shame, The Darkest Hour 3-D, The Descendants, Man on a Ledge, Martha Marcy May Marlene, A Dangerous Method, The Woman in Black, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance 3-D, Margaret, This Means War, Stella Days, Act of Valour, The Hunger Games, Titanic 3-D, The Cabin in the Woods, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Lockout, Albert Nobbs, Damsels in Distress, Prometheus, Red Tails, Red Lights, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter 3-D, Ice Age 4, Killer Joe, Magic Mike, The Dark Knight Rises, The Expendables 2, My Brothers, The Watch, Lawless, The Sweeney, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Liberal Arts, Sinister, Hit and Run, Ruby Sparks, On the Road, Stitches, Skyfall, The Sapphires, Gambit, Seven Psychopaths, Lincoln, Men at Lunch – Lon sa Speir, Warm Bodies, A Good Day to Die Hard, Safe Haven, Arbitrage, Stoker, Robot and Frank, Parker, Side Effects, Iron Man 3, 21 and Over, Dead Man Down, Mud, The Moth Diaries, Populaire, Behind the Candelabra, Man of Steel 3-D, The East, The Internship, The Frozen Ground, The Wolverine, The Heat, RED 2, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, Diana, Blue Jasmine, How I Live Now, Thanks for Sharing, Escape Plan, Like Father, Like Son, Ender’s Game, Philomena, The Counsellor, Catching Fire, Black Nativity, Delivery Man, 12 Years a Slave, Devil’s Due, Inside Llewyn Davis, Mr Peabody & Sherman 3-D, Dallas Buyers Club, The Monuments Men, Bastards, The Stag, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Calvary, Magic Magic, Tracks, Hill Street, X-Men: Days of Future Past 3-D, Benny & Jolene, The Fault in Our Stars, 3 Days to Kill, Boyhood, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes 3-D, SuperMensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon, God’s Pocket, Hector and the Search for Happiness, The Expendables 3, What If, Sin City 2, Let’s Be Cops, The Guest, A Most Wanted Man, Wish I Was Here, Noble, Maps to the Stars, Life After Beth, Gone Girl, Northern Soul, The Babadook, Interstellar, The Drop, Mockingjay – Part I, Electricity, Birdman, Taken 3, Wild, Testament of Youth, A Most Violent Year, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Son of a Gun, Patrick’s Day, Selma, It Follows, Paper Souls, Home 3-D, While We’re Young, John Wick, A Little Chaos, The Good Lie, Let Us Prey, The Legend of Barney Thomson, Hitman: Agent 47.

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Top 6 Film Features

There’s been a lot of film features, from me obsessing over ignored inflation at the box-office and omnipresent CGI on the screen to the twaddle of Oscar ceremonies and thoroughly bogus critical narratives of New Hollywood.

 

Here are my favourite film features from the last six years:

 

A Proof – Keanu Can Act

Snyder’s Sensibility

What the Hell is … Method Acting?

Terrence Malick’s Upas Tree

5 Reasons to love Tom at the Farm

A Million Ways to Screw up a Western

 

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Top 6 TV Features

There’s been quite a bit of musing about TV here, usually in short-form howls about The Blacklist or other such popcorn irritants, but sometimes in longer format, like two disquisitions on Laurence Fishburne’s stint in CSI.

 

Here are my favourite TV features from the last six years:

 

TARDIS: Time And Relative Dimensions In Smartness

Double Exposure: Cutter’s Way/House M.D.

Medium’s Realism    

2ThirteenB Baker Street, Princeton

Funny Bones

An Arrow of a different colour

 

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Top 6 Plays

Since I decided to start reviewing plays in summer 2010 there’s been a steady stream of reviews from the Dublin Theatre Festival and regular productions at the Gate, the Abbey, the Olympia, the Gaiety, and Smock Alley.

 

Here are my favourites of the plays I’ve reviewed over the last six years:

 

John Gabriel Borkman

The Silver Tassie

Pygmalion

Juno and the Paycock

The Select: The Sun Also Rises

A Whistle in the Dark

 

And that’s a selection from this list:

Death of a Salesman, Arcadia, Phaedra, John Gabriel Borkman, Enron, The Silver Tassie, The Field, The Cripple of Inishmaan, Attempts on Her Life, Pygmalion, Translations, Hay Fever, Juno and the Paycock, Peer Gynt, Slattery’s Sago Saga, Tom Crean: Antarctic Explorer, Big Maggie, Hamlet, Improbable Frequency, Alice in Funderland, Glengarry Glen Ross, Travesties, The House, The Plough and the Stars, The Lark, Dubliners, The Select: The Sun Also Rises, A Whistle in the Dark, Conversations on a Homecoming, The Talk of the Town, King Lear, Major Barbara, Accidental Death of an Anarchist, The Critic, Desire Under the Elms, Neutral Hero, Macbeth, A Skull in Connemara, The Vortex, An Ideal Husband, Twelfth Night, Aristocrats, Ballyturk, Heartbreak House, The Actor’s Lament, Our Few and Evil Days, Bailegangaire, Spinning, She Stoops to Conquer, The Walworth Farce, The Caretaker, The Man in Two Pieces, Hedda Gabler, The Gigli Concert, A Month in the Country, The Shadow of a Gunman, The Importance of Being Earnest, Bob & Judy, By the Bog of Cats.

 

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Top 6 Colour Pieces

It must be admitted that I’ve written fewer colour pieces for the blog than I would have liked, but I’ve greatly enjoyed the occasional adventures of Hollywood insider Micawber-Mycroft; a homage to PG Wodehouse’s Mr Mulliner.

 

Here are my favourite colour pieces from the last six years:

 

How to Watch 300

Mark Pellegrino gets ambitious

Great Production Disasters of Our Time: Apocalypse Now

Micawber-Mycroft explains nervous action directing

Alfred & Bane: Brothers in Arms

Kristen Bell, Book and Candle

 

Six years, my brain hurts a lot…

December 5, 2011

Terrence Malick’s Upas Tree

Gladstone in the Disestablishment debates of 1869 was fond of referring to the Irish Church as the Upas Tree, a popular contemporary botanical metaphor based on an Indonesian plant that poisoned everything else that tried to grow in soil around it even as it thrived…

I’m tempted to rename The Tree of Life to Terrence Malick’s Upas Tree because I’ve been complaining for a while that a too rigid adherence to an eminently predictable three-act structure is a major source of Hollywood’s current woes, and that loosening up the structure of mainstream cinema would be an exciting development, only for Malick to drive audiences demented with his unstructured rambling magnum opus. During the summer reports of walk-outs, sarcastic laughter, ironic applause, and worse floated in from all quarters as responses to Malick’s film. I heard of three men getting as far as the appearance of the dinosaurs before one went, “Ah, here. Scoops?”, and they just got up and left. I was at one of the last screenings in the IFI in its tiny second screen in the afternoon with an audience of Malick devotees. I’d been trying to concentrate on just luxuriating in the visuals of the creation of the universe montage and trying not to think too critically about it. The choral soundtrack got louder and louder and I was thinking about how on earth Malick was achieving this, was he adding in extra singers for each verse, when a man a few seats down from me turned to say to the woman next to him, “Oh, this is just pretentious f****** nonsense! It really is…” Unfortunately, in a hilarious occurrence straight out of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy film, at that precise moment the soundtrack went mute and his shouted whisper bounded around the entire room and was heard by everyone. You could feel the audience stiffen in their seats, some offended by this philistinism, but many more I think suddenly roused, out of somnolent acceptance of Malick’s montage as Art, back into consciousness and a critical evaluation of what the man had just said – and do you know what, I swear that I felt most of the audience suddenly silently agree and think, “It is pretentious f****** nonsense, isn’t it?!”

The first 30 minutes of the film are largely dispensable, as are the last 20 minutes. The creation of the universe montage is not art but empty bombast masquerading as profundity, while the end of the movie hilariously resembles an advertisement for life insurance as white-suited people walk around a beach smiling beatifically at each other. There is a decent movie buried in between these two extremes about a 1950s Texan adolescence, but it’s not a great movie. It wouldn’t be great, even if you could unearth it, because the central child becomes a deeply unpleasant protagonist who, in shooting his guitar-playing brother in the finger out of jealousy and spite that this bonds the younger brother to their music-loving father, approaches borderline psychosis. The most egregious failures in The Tree of Life are the least mainstream elements, while what little that works does so because it’s mainstream. Just like Let the Right One In critics have been praising as creative ambiguity what is in fact terrifying vagueness. I was stunned to discover in the credits that Fiona Shaw was the children’s grandmother, from the movie that’s not at all obvious, she appears to deliver a horrendous line to Jessica Chastain merely as an awful neighbour who is quite rightly never seen again by the family. As for what happened to the brother…as with people reading meanings into 2001 that they got from Arthur C Clarke’s novel, people saying the brother obviously committed suicide only think that from knowledge of Malick’s own life. It is not in the movie. Sean Penn is absolutely right in saying he doesn’t even know why he’s in the movie, but his comments about a dense and beautiful script which does not appear on screen are infuriating because they suggest that Malick once again signed people up for one film and then shot too much unscripted, irrelevant, but pretty material and edited together from endless incoherent footage an entirely different, philosophically slight, and inferior work.

Malick’s ideal viewer would appear to be an agoraphobic shut-in, with no access to the many nature or physics documentaries on TV. Be brutally honest and you will admit that the creation of the universe montage is so deliberately vague in its focus on the micro rather than the macro that if you didn’t know what it was beforehand you’d be unlikely to find out from watching it. The mind boggles that Doug Trumbull was involved in making that sequence as it’s inferior to depictions of the self-same cosmic events on most television documentaries. The dinosaurs are more convincing than Terra Nova’s creatures but they’re curiously inert so let’s not kid ourselves that the CGI is that much better than the Discovery Channel benchmark. An even greater problem is Malick’s apparent belief that pointing the camera upwards at the slightest provocation plus blasting majestic John Tavener choral works at ear-splitting volume equals Transcendence. Do you ever look up at a tall building, feel dwarfed by it, and go ‘whoa’? Do you sometimes walk around after heavy rain to appreciate how all the foliage looks somehow greener? Do you occasionally look up at the sunlight coming thru the leaves of trees in dappled patterns? Do you always slow down when walking so as not to scare a wild animal in order to fully appreciate stumbling across it by observing it? Congratulations, you have reached a state of deep commune with nature that Malick thinks few people ever have. Worse still, the great philosopher-poet of cinema, as the adulatory reviews would crown him, spends two and a half hours in tangentially making the point that Moulin Rouge! only needed a rhyming couplet to deliver – ‘The greatest thing you’ll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return.’ The conflict between Nature and Grace outlined in voiceover by Jessica Chastain at the beginning needs dialogue to be developed. Instead Malick thinks he can explore it with clichéd and irrelevant nature imagery.

My objections to the idea that complex ideas can be communicated visually rather than verbally are old, but watching this movie I also discovered something new. I am so decadent as to require a smidgen of narrative amidst visual paeans to the beauty of nature. This is why I dub what Malick has produced an Upas Tree. He may bask in the glory of his film being a philosophical masterpiece saturated with, and directing people’s attention to, the beauty of nature, but anyone else attempting to throw away the three-act structure will now be instantly reminded that The Tree of Life proves that you can’t abandon it and be stopped dead in their tracks. Hunger may have rewritten the possibilities of cinema, but it retained the bare bones of a three-act structure to supply narrative momentum, and realised that one extended dialogue scene discussing ideas could support far more screen-time devoted to art installation style visual explorations. The Tree of Life though eschews either that sense of narrative drive or that necessity for dialogue in the exploration of ideas, and by its failure seems to proclaim that abandoning the three-act structure is not the way to go, and, at a time when its detailed proscriptions badly need re-inventing, that makes me mad. Steve McQueen’s work seems to demonstrate that the classic three-act structure is not always necessary, but some semblance of artistic purpose is indispensible. Graham Greene’s definition of a film as a series of particular images assembled in a particular way to achieve a particular effect still holds true. One could contrast McQueen’s tightly controlled visions with Malick’s free-for-all ‘shoot everything and find the movie in the editing room’ approach. The true contrast between them though is that McQueen finds beauty in the mundane and ugly, so that you go ‘whoa’ watching a floor being disinfected, while Malick finds beauty in the beautiful – which recalls Joyce’s dismissal of Lady Chatterley’s Lover as propaganda for that which needs no propaganda…

Terrence Malick is now making two more films rather quickly. He may have deeper philosophical messages to impart from his life experience, I certainly hope he does, but I think he would be well advised to re-watch his debut Badlands and remind himself that having a sense of narrative drive, be it e’er so dreamy is not a bad thing.

August 9, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

James Franco, as smugly self-satisfied as ever, develops a cure for Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately he also manages to bring about the apocalypse. Dude… Not cool.

This movie has been almost destroyed by its unusually long TV spots, which added to the cinema trailers that consisted solely of plot points and thematic statements masquerading as dialogue, leaves precious few surprises for cinema viewing. Franco’s scientist makes a breakthrough on a drug which repairs cognitive functioning in one chimpanzee, however, when she runs amok the entire research programme is canned. Everyone’s favourite slacker Tyler Labine doesn’t have the heart to put down the baby that chimpanzee had been protecting and so gives it to a reluctant Franco. Franco raises it at home where he discovers that it has inherited the effects of the drug, resulting in super-intelligence. Eventually he decides to test the drug on his own Alzheimer’s stricken father Charles (John Lithgow). Frieda Pinto’s vet warns him about messing with nature, but he convinces his boss Jacobs (a nicely cavalier David Oyelowo) to allow him develop an even more potent strain…

There are similarities with this week’s other chimpanzee release Project Nim, as Caesar is raised in a human setting, and shown using sign language and displaying very human traits, before his increasing viciousness sees him abruptly removed to live with chimpanzees who ostracise him. But this is a wild animal, a point made needlessly nastily when Caesar very deliberately bites off and eats a man’s fingers when attacking the angry next-door neighbour to protect a confused Charles. Caesar’s incarceration is interesting as Caesar is subjected to humiliation as the new inmate before using his superior intelligence to rise up the food-chain. It’s like watching Audiard’s A Prophet in a zoo. I’ve said it before but Andy Serkis is an unappreciated marvel as he does so much acting work in motion-capture. His performance as Caesar is wonderfully nuanced; you can see in his eyes the dawning of responsibility for his fellow less smart primates. John Lithgow does wonders with the material he’s given, though his transformation from mangling ‘Clair de Lune’ to concert pianist as the Alzheimer’s drug works is tasteless in its emotional manipulation. Characterisation isn’t this film’s strong point though. Frieda Pinto in particular has a barely written character.

There are a number of deliriously showy moments by director Rupert Wyatt, such as the montage of Caesar climbing a giant redwood that takes us thru 5 years in about a minute (please copy Terrence Malick), a panning shot thru a building as the apes rampage thru office space before tumbling onto the street, Jacobs entering a deserted building and not noticing what’s above him (a homage to The Birds), and a delightfully Spielbergian touch in the first arrival of the evolved primates in San Francisco being conveyed by a sudden gentle rain of loose leaves onto the joggers on a suburban road. Other highlights are an iconic line from the 1968 original, a hilarious moment when the signing circus orangutan gives the raspberry to Caesar’s grandiose plans, and a startlingly well-staged action finale on the Golden Gate Bridge.

This is a vast improvement on Tim Burton’s 2001 disaster but while it features a number of showy moments, and a nicely choreographed finale, the shallowness of characterisation holds it back.

2.5/5

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