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Movie Review: War for the Planet of the Apes
Written by Spling   
Wednesday, 12 July 2017 12:03

Andy Serkis is the ringmaster in the reboot series of The Planet of the Apes. A pioneer of iconic digital characters, having played Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, he's done it again with Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and now War for the Planet of the Apes. His latest action-adventure sees Caesar, the figurehead and lead for the series, rightfully front and centre. The character has not only developed in terms of characterisation, but in terms of screen time, occupying the lead role without "help" from supporting name actors.

In fact, War for the Planet of the Apes is taken almost entirely from the ape perspective without the film-makers trying to balance things out with human actors. James Franco, Frieda Pinto and John Lithgow helped stabilise the series in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Gary Oldman augmented the ensemble in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, while War for the Planet of the Apes almost abandons this format completely. The only noteworthy human actors are Amiah Miller, who echoes Dakota Fanning's star-making role in War of the Worlds and Mr. Dependable, Woody Harrelson.

Perhaps the notion of being overshadowed by a digital actor has made many weary to play opposite Serkis, who has carried the new series with a brooding, guarded and soulful performance. Either way, Matt Reeves, the film-maker who took over directing the series from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has done the near unthinkable by populating his film with digitally rendered motion capture performers. Toby Kebbell took on a bigger part for Dawn as Koba, a second-in-command and understudy role opposite Serkis. Now the ensemble is dominated by "ape" actors with more speaking parts emerging.

War for the Planet of the Apes

"It's too late to call shotgun!

Following a devastating blow to the apes, the herd seek a more long-term sanctuary as Caesar sets out on a quest to take revenge on those responsible. The third installment has been influenced by Biblical epics, more specifically the war film, Apocalypse Now. Set against a cold and icy winter, the migration scenes and story's impetus have correlations with the Exodus. Then, following a similar trajectory to Apocalypse Now, Caesar's epic journey to confront the his aggressor echoes the classic rivalry between Martin Sheen and Marlon Brando as Colonel Kurtz.

Harrelson's not as immense as Kurtz, yet conveys a darker maniacal side than we're used to seeing. He's a worthy adversary for Caesar and makes it easy for the audience to pick sides. The magic of War for the Planet of the Apes is that Reeves is able to bring us to the realisation that while good and bad exist for both species, we've got more empathy for the anthropomorphic ape kind. While the adventure is epic and the action is enthralling, he takes the time to exact some heartfelt drama as moments of innocence and mercy spring up in the snow. While the struggle is serious and the running time is long, Reeves employs some comedy to lighten the intense and brooding atmosphere.

While these bursts of levity are welcome and funny, the tonal shift isn't quite as welcome. One character drives this comic relief gimmick, adding to the entertainment value in an almost plausible manner with a style of comedy that is jarring against the big picture. Then, various story elements just don't add up and could've used more forethought and extrapolation. It's hampered by the treatment of Caesar in the third act, the consistency of communication among the herd and even a few contrivances and cliches in terms of bringing it home.

Apart from some strong performances, the real wonder of War for the Planet of the Apes is the visual effects wizardry. We're completely immersed in the story as one amazing film location is populated with digital hybrids only to segue into another. The balance of landscape and characters is quite breathtaking at times as we marvel at the fine detail of a close up of the orangutan, Maurice, only to return to Andy Serkis and his complete embodiment of Caesar. While this is the third film in the series, there's a marked maturity, greater understanding and improvement over its predecessors and not only in terms of the ape characters.

War for the Planet of the Apes has its flaws, but the majesty of the visual tapestry, the ambitious role reversal, heartrending war drama and nature of the performances makes for an entertaining and spellbinding epic. It's the best film in the trilogy, showcasing just how far Hollywood has come in terms of CGI and mocap, delivering an awe-inspiring spectacle that chalks up a big win for the evolution of live-action digital characters under the rightful command of Andy Serkis.

The bottom line: Captivating

Last Updated on Wednesday, 12 July 2017 12:12
Movie Review: Spider-Man - Homecoming
Written by Spling   
Wednesday, 05 July 2017 10:00

"Spider-Man, Spider-Man, Spider-Man..." no, this isn't the theme tune. It's how you'd sound counting the number of Spider-Man franchises over the last 15 years. While this superhero has had as many actors don the web-tangled red-and-blue as there have been Hulks in as many years, it's starting to get ridiculous. No one ever thought they'd see Garfield and Spider-Man in the same movie, let alone the same sentence, and yet it happened with The Amazing Spider-Man. Andrew Garfield is a terrific actor and did a great job, picking up from where Tobey Maguire and Sam Raimi left off, teaming up with Marc Webb (yes, Webb) to reboot a franchise that self-imploded in the sandblasted Spider-Man 3.

While The Amazing Spider-Man was actually fresh, it also struggled with an "electrifying" sequel that tried to capture the Twilight audience at the behest of its fan boy populace. As peppy as Emma Stone was, the sequel was overcooked like Spider-Man 3 and left audiences bewildered. If you want a superhero movie done right, leave it to Marvel, which is probably why they swooped in like a valkyrie to pick up the troubled franchise for yet another reboot. To get things started, Spidey was introduced in Captain America: Civil War, giving Tom Holland a chance to dip his toe in the superhero hot tub. The cameo was most welcome, injecting the Marvel machismo with a bit of goofy youth and cuing the tone of Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Homecoming was also a big clue. Much like Edgar Wright re-imagined the heist caper as a superhero movie with Ant-Man, we're dealing with a high school comedy romance retooled as a superhero flick with Spidey. In an age where superhero movies are spawning quicker than well... spawn, filmmakers are trying to keep things zippy and fresh. This can be said for Spider-Man: Homecoming, which is enthralling and full of zest thanks to its youthful energy and playful tone.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

"I wear this mask because... you know, stranger danger!"

Tom Holland is an unassumingly likable go-getter, who will inevitably play Bond when he comes of age. His British-ness makes him a bit more reserved than the recent spate of superheroes and this works magically for the awkward teen comedy. Homecoming is reminiscent of films like Superbad in terms of offbeat comedy and great chemistry between Peter and his best friend, Ned. While the language and dick jokes are thankfully retired, Holland and Batalon have got a super vibe that borrows a bit of The Big Bang Theory's charm to spice up their underdog bromance and girlfriend troubles.

The clumsy teen comedy and full-tilt action fit together quite masterfully as director Jon Watts steers a screenplay with six writing credits. While the action sequences are fresh and well-choreographed, the real strength of Spider-Man: Homecoming is in the characters. Sporting an ensemble including: Michael Keaton, Marisa Tomei, Robert Downey Jr., Jon Favreau, Gwyneth Paltrow and Zendaya, they've brought some strong acting talent to support Holland. Michael Keaton gets a chance to expel some of that Birdman energy, Robert Downey Jr. is enjoyable albeit purposefully awkward in a father role, Jon Favreau is funny as Happy, the dog's body, Zendaya is a blast as a quirky high schooler and it would have been good to see more of Marisa Tomei and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Every actor pulls their weight and shares the screen like a team, maintaining the dramatic integrity of each scene whilst keeping the audience invested in Peter's coming-of-age journey. Watts maintains visual integrity too, seamlessly integrating some thrilling stunts and visual effects into the action. The mentor/father figure relationship between Peter and Tony is a bit awkward, even if purposefully so, and there are question marks hanging over Stark's domination of the Marvel universe. Then, there are one or two crucial moments that don't make complete sense, but these are little hiccups in the big picture.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is an all-rounder: packing a punch, activating a belly laugh, jam-packing surprises while keeping us in suspense. The characters are delightful, lovable and easy to get behind thanks to full performances. The visual effects are ever-present and yet ever-invisible, while the film-makers keep things upbeat, fun, well-balanced and entertaining. Spider-Man: Homecoming is a blast and for the most part, manages to duck under falling debris. It may not be the best Spider-Man, but it's right up there with the best of them!

Last Updated on Wednesday, 05 July 2017 10:05
Movie Review: The Promise
Written by Spling   
Wednesday, 28 June 2017 11:15

The Promise is a film by Terry George, the same writer-director who brought us the terrifying vision of genocide in Africa, Hotel Rwanda. He's covering an epic romance drama in the same sweeping fashion as David Lean's Doctor Zhivago set against the last days of the Ottoman Empire. The Promise hinges on a love triangle between Mikael, a gifted apothecary turned medical student, Ana, a budding artist and her partner, Chris, an American journalist. While the windswept romance remains centre stage, George keeps the Armenian genocide as the backdrop, encountering some similar issues to Sean Penn's well-meaning yet fundamentally-flawed, The Last Face.

We're whisked from a small town to the ornate churches and architecture of Constantinople, Turkey, where our young Mikael enrolls at a medical academy in 1914. Being betrothed to a woman from his community, things become more complicated when he's introduced to the beautiful Ana and her stoic partner, Chris. The wartime situation aggravates matters of the heart as Mikael, Ana and Chris are subject to the chaos of hostile powers, intercepted by soldiers and fall in the path of an ever-encroaching army.

Oscar Isaac is a fine actor, who demonstrates his versatility in The Promise, managing to keep the thread of the film almost based on his performance alone. Charlotte Le Bon is given a chance to stretch her wings in a role that could've been based on Princess Diana, while Christian Bale delves into another serious role that recalls his performances in films like The Flowers of War and Empire of the Sun. The Flowers of War serves as a reasonable litmus test to decide whether you should see The Promise, since both films have a similar balance of drama, war, ethical, melodrama and symbolic power.

The Promise

"It's safe as houses, not safe as horses..."

Part history, part drama, The Promise plays out like a sprawling Biblical epic with a soaring score to match the vivid visuals. Journeying through parts of Armenia on donkey, gathering with crowds and weaving between churches and pastors, there's a spiritual dimension to the film as the story of Moses reverberates. While the Biblical element is mostly experienced in the scope of The Promise, rather than the dialogue, the sheer weight of the drama threatens its foundations. The net result is an unwieldy multi-genre film that moves from sweeping romance to dusty survival to harrowing historical war film. These transitions make the continual evolution entertaining, yet keep one on the periphery.

The central concept could have used more gravity and time in setting the scene and loses some power into the third act. Much like Australia, the quality of the ingredients make some moments heartbreaking and powerful, yet the overall impression is a bit shaky as they reinvent the film halfway in. Then, while the intentions are noble, it's difficult to side with the lead whose dubious and shadowy decision-making alienates despite Isaac's inviting performance. George tries to elevate the love triangle but this jars with the overpowering history of the environment, making it seem at odds.

While it has its struggles, George delivers some beautifully understated scenes and mines some heartbreaking and powerful moments. The talented trio give their all, despite the off-key casting of Christian Bale... and make it easier to simply accept the overarching story and plight of the characters. It's pleasing to see that sprawling epics like The Promise are still being made and while it lacks storytelling focus, the finesse of the visuals, score, history and performances make it admirable and important.

The bottom line: Evocative

Last Updated on Wednesday, 28 June 2017 11:19
Movie Review: Pronoia
Written by Spling   
Thursday, 22 June 2017 17:52

Pronoia is a haunting, eerie and atmospheric mystery sci-fi drama short film written and directed by Nick Efteriades, starring Stelio Savante, Hannah Jane McMurray, Catherine Chadwick and Lou Mastantuono. A man (Savante) and woman (McMurray) wait out a rainstorm in a hotel bar somewhere between '"here and nowhere.' When the TV news reports the disappearance of a high-ranking Pentagon official, neither he nor she know of the ramifications it will have on their brief, seductive encounter.

The intriguing title, Pronoia, refers to a state of mind and polar opposite to paranoia, describing the sense that there is a conspiracy that exists to secretly benefit people. The Shining's influences are present in the hotel corridors, ghostly patrons and lobby as a curious dialogue plays out between a couple, whose alienated standpoint creates palpable tension. We're thrown in the deep end, as this dark, cold and sleek film plays out with minimalist precision. From the graceful camera movement, we get a suave look at what seems like an excerpt from a much broader work.

We're entranced by the mysterious man at the centre of Pronoia, played by South Africa's very own Stelio Savante. Surrounded by question marks, we try to get a better understanding of him as Savante's mercurial performance keeps us guessing, unsettled and on edge, waiting for him to explode with answers. He's supported by Hannah Jane McMurray, who heightens the intrigue with her exquisite features, an otherworldly disposition and a deer-in-the-headlights vulnerability.

The story seeps out in moments as we piece together a puzzle, which is obscured to layer further tension. Pronoia swathes itself in atmosphere and style in a similar fashion to the work of Anton Corbijn. While beautiful, the jagged storytelling leaves one feeling alienated and muddled, feeding on scraps and falling back on the eerie atmosphere and pensive mood. While somewhat incoherent as a short film, one gets a good taster of what to anticipate from a full feature.

Last Updated on Thursday, 22 June 2017 18:26
Movie Review: Free Fire
Written by Spling   
Wednesday, 21 June 2017 10:47

Free Fire is a crime thriller and dark comedy caper from Ben Wheatley, who seems to have been heavily influenced by stylish action directors, Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie. The film is set in a Boston warehouse in 1978 as a meeting between two gangs turns into a bloody shootout and a game of survival. While never short on ammunition, he's armour-plated this single location vehicle with an ensemble including the likes of our very own Sharlto Copley, Brie Larson, Sam Riley, Cillian Murphy, Michael Smiley, Jack Reynor and Armie Hammer. Some of the coolest cats in Hollywood enter the fray of a gangster's playground to get the money, the guns or both.

Free Fire is aimed squarely at fans of Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie, essentially blending American Hustle with Reservoir Dogs and b-movies of the '70s. This dusty minimalist ensemble crime thriller takes place at a warehouse and is there to stay as a deal goes horribly wrong. Bad language and gunfire pepper the film as some rather amusing dark comedy plays out between a hotch-potch of surly characters. With very little dialogue, lots of shouting and ricocheting bullets, it's a pretty dark, gritty and violent flick.

Ben Wheatley laces it with style in the quick draw editing and wardrobe department, even making some space for the nostalgic and peaceful music of John Denver to usher in a refreshingly sombre Deer Hunter mood. Unfortunately, while amusing and stylish, it lacks substance... and nothing, even Sharlto Copley's outrageous South African accent and ad-libbed "lekker" and "boet" can refurbish the bullet-riddled target. While the off-the-cuff dialogue, fresh cinematography and paintball style camaraderie make it entertaining - it never rises above it pulpy comic book actioner status.

Free Fire

"Boys, I guess we'll never have Boston."

The character performances from the underdog crew keep it on-track as relational discord is established and plays out in the body count. Copley is a lynch pin acting like a kingpin, playing into his South African heritage with great gusto and off-handed charm as a wild card. Brie Larson holds fort as the sole actress, wrangling her way into the picture against some cringe-worthy chauvinist barbs. Sam Riley is slithery as a low-life scumbag, Cillian Murphy keeps his composure as the dark horse, Michael Smiley is reminiscent of Peter Stormare, Jack Reynor lands some good laughs while Armie Hammer plays Big Daddy Cool.

Quite amazingly, despite its quick unraveling, it holds together, but could have benefited from more dark comedy in the vein of Monty Python or the unscripted comedy genius of Christopher Guest films. With so many wounded gangsters crawling around and trying their hand at chin-up bravado, it seemed like a perfect opportunity for great comedy went to waste. It's still pretty funny, especially with Copley's outrageous character trying to call the shots and opening the floodgate, yet one gets the impression Wheatley was trying to keep a lid on the potboiler to maintain some level of reality and prevent it from drawing direct comparisons with Anchorman.

If you prefer films with a bit more meat and a story that doesn't just skip the car chase onto the third act showdown, Free Fire may not be your blood-smeared cup of tea. However, if you've enjoyed single location films before and can handle a barrage of urban artillery and f-bombs with tongue-sticking-through-cheek humour, you may just like it!

The bottom line: Off-the-wall

Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 June 2017 11:08
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